By: Gloria Wleh
What was to be seen as one of the government’s achievements in relocating marketers from one of Liberia’s busiest business districts is likened to a fiasco as marketers have returned to their selling spots.
The government of Liberia, on July 6, 2021, with the Liberia Marketing Association Markets Superintendents, agreed to demolish and relocate Red-light Market to the 14th Omega Gobachop Market.
The agreement was through the Ministries of Public Works and Internal Affairs with the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA).
The Red-light Market demolition and relocation deadline was July 12, 2021, but the complete relocation did not work.
Before the demolition, marketers were asked to leave the overcrowded commercial hub and relocate to the newly constructed Omega Market in the same Paynesville.
The demolition of the market structures and relocation led security officers to be assigned in Red-light day-by-day to ensure that violent marketers do not return to the demolished market.
But, despite the agreement, marketers did not leave as agreed; therefore, they were removed by state securities whose actions were condemned by the district’s lawmaker and the civil society council.
Representative Ceebee Barshell said the new site for the marketers is not conducive and spacious to host thousands of marketers, especially during the rainy season.
The government constructed the new market and implemented the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) with the Japanese government’s support.
In December 2021, angry marketers at the newly opened Omega Market threatened to return to Red Light if the government failed to stop others from selling there.
The marketers, most of them small business owners and vendors, set up a roadblock between Coca-Cola Factory and the Omega Market, a move they said was intended to draw the government’s attention to their complaint.
The government failed to yield to the complaint; therefore, marketers have resumed selling at the commercial hub.
Currently, demolished structures are fully returning to the market site- which is congested with marketers, commuters, and pedestrians.
Hinder to Road Construction
The return of the Red-light marketers is impeding the Coca-Cola Factory to ELWA Junction road construction.
The China Chongqing International Construction Company (CICO) is the contractor.
“It is difficult to have the marketers returning to the construction site because you can see we have not completed it; the state must take responsibility of this,” CICO said.
Ongoing works in the Red Light Market (Photo by TSM,2022)
In an interview with The Stage Media, marketers expressed dissatisfaction with the relocation process, terming it as ‘poor planning.’
Stanford Pratt, a Petty Trader for over ten years, said he returned to Red-light because “proper planning was not done by the government before relocating us to Omega Market.”
“The first thing the government should have done was to secure dry land for marketers once they want to relocate Marketers.”
“How can you chase us to sell in the swamp, when you know it’s not developed for everyone to sell.”
Stanford said, “My business broke down because customers were not coming in the market for the one-way road business.”
He has no plan of returning to the new market. “I cannot return to Omega because I am a valued man.”
A value man is someone who sells fashion, clothes, and footwear in Liberia.
“Red light is a good business area, and I love it. Since the government is fencing the road, they should just allow us to sell here instead of Omega.
Kadiatu Sailey, a Slipper Seller like Stanford for more than eight years, said she was compelled to return to the commercial circle because she had no space in the new market.
“I went to the new market but I could not find a spot and my market was not going. My business broke down and right now I am not even able to send my children to school.”
“Let the government allow us to sell in Red-light here because business sells better here than Omega Market.”
Joshua Menawon, a Money Exchanger, said,” The construction of Omega Market for marketers is good.
“Marketers going to sell in the new market is not a problem but the market is not conducive for the large number.”
When asked if he was not at risk of selling while the road was being constructed, Joshua said, “Even though I am at risk selling while the people are fixing the road, what will I do; I just have to do my business so my family and I can survive.”
Land Cruiser Jeep falls in one of the ditches opened by the construction company (Photo by TSM taken 2022)
For his part, Ojuku Domi, a commuter in Red-light, said the government should exert more pressure on marketers to relocate them. “That is the only way they will succeed in relocating Red-light to Omega Market,” he indicated.
Go Back to Omega
According to Mary Wallace, Superintendent of Red-light Market, she does not have the power to remove the marketers from Red-light.
“The government built that descent market for us and carry us there. What made the marketers to sell outside of the market building in the swamp, only they know what is best for them.”
Although she was angry with the marketers, as head, Wallace called on the sellers to go back to Omega Market and join forces to develop the area to the market they wanted.
The Ministry of Public is the government Institution concerned with road construction and working in the public’s interest.
Public Works Minister Ruth Collins responded to the marketers’ concerns saying, “The Special Presidential Committee set up by President George Weah is to remove marketers from Red-light peacefully; we do not want to create any issue with them. But the process to relocate the marketers continues; we will make sure they are removed peacefully.”
“We are now working with the marketers’ entire team, including Petty Traders and every other market structure in Red-light to ensure they are relocated back to the Omega Market,” the Minister of Public Works said.
Though July 12, 2021, was the deadline for marketers of Red-light to be relocated to Omega when asked about the official date marketers will finally be relocated back to the 14th Omega Gobachop Market, Minister Collins Said, “I can’t be precise in giving a time when they will officially clear the market.
But let me just say this, Omega is the home for marketers.”
Minister Collins said the Omega market is over four hundred acres of land, especially for marketers.
She disclosed that they had concluded a consultative agreement with their local and international contractors.
“The contractors for Omega Market were told to get ready and they are gearing up for the dry season to open the alleys for a free traffic flow at the Omega Market,” she disclosed.
She acknowledged that Omega is a swampy area indicating, “We cannot do more road works during the rainy season.”
The Public Works Minister explained that the road fencing in Red-light was in response to the initial challenge they foresee in removing the marketers.
The road work is expected to finish by May 2023. “The barricade is nothing that should stop them from going back to Omega Market.”