By Mustapha Sesay
For some it should be enforced as a day of resting; for others retaining the no-trading rules on Sundays would mean depriving them of a whole day’s earnings, which they depend on to survive.
These were the mixed reactions of some traders within the centre of the business district of Freetown with regards to the question of whether the restriction imposed at the height of the Epidemic should remain in force or be relaxed after the country has been declared Ebola-free.
The restriction came into force following the declaration of the Public Health Emergency by President Ernest Bai Koroma at the soaring moment of the Ebola outbreak that plagued the country for nearly two years. Banning trading on Sunday was one of the measures implemented by the government to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
The Ebola outbreak, which occurred mainly in the three West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, was considered by health experts to be the worst to have struck anywhere in the world. It succeeded in crippling almost all major business activities in the country. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans, young men and women, whose livelihoods heavily depended on street hawking, were seriously affected not only by the outbreak but also by the reduction in hours of trading.
Along major streets in Freetown it is common to see these young men and women selling every kind of goods, ranging from razor blades, rat poison, bubble gum, needles, to electrical appliances. Because of the kinds of wares they sell, most of them hawk for a whole day only to to get what they would survive on with their family for the day.
“The business we do is just ‘hand-to-mouth’, we are not doing it to build houses or buy cars and some of us don’t want to stay home idle or involve in prostitution just to be able to take care of our families,” a female trader told Politico along Sani Abacha Street in central Freetown. She shares the views of most of her colleagues who are engaged in a similar trade.
While some among these women traders are concerned about what they can provide for their families for the day, they also understand calls by some people to have time with their loved ones at home on Sundays. They too have said they want to seize the opportunity already in place to see that Sunday was reserved as a day of resting. Among the men folks, however, the dominant view was that business had flourished more on Sundays than any other day.
Usman Kamara, in his mid-twenties, sells plastic footballs around the PZ area in central Freetown. He said every day was important for his business and would not want to lose any day.
“Business is hard for us these days. Imagine some days I will sell only one ball and make a profit of Le 3000. If I stay at home on Sunday it means I will have no money to feed my family. It has not been easy for me staying at home on Sundays during the Ebola outbreak. Now that there is no Ebola case government needs to remove the ban,” he added.
Amadu Kargbo who sells sad irons not far from where I caught up with Usman supports the latter’s argument. For him, whether to rest on Sundays should be a matter of personal choice.
“Before now I used to sell on Sundays and I have been making good profit, but when Ebola entered Freetown the president told us not to sell after 6pm and to stay at home on Sundays. We agreed because we had no choice and we also wanted to fight the sickness. Now that the sickness is over the government should allow us to sell on Sundays. For me I will like to do business every time and every day because that is the only way I make money”, he said.
Famata Conteh, who sells shoes on Abacha Street, disagrees with Usman and Amadu. She said in as much as doing business was good, resting and having time with family was also necessary. She said people would only respect it if there was a government restriction.
Since Sunday is a major day to the Christian faith, some people have defended the ban on trade on the day on the basis that it allows them to concentrate to God. But the views of some non-Christians indicate it is beyond religion.
“I am a proper Muslim, and I think it is good for us to rest on Sundays because throughout the week we are here looking for money and life is not all about money. We should also think about our health and cleaning our houses. Before now I don’t sell on Sunday because I know it is good for me to rest,” said Momoh Swaray.
No doubt majority of the business people have conformed to the government demand not to sell on Sundays, albeit against their wish. But there is a substantial number of others who can’t endure the hardship and they have defied the regulation. Many of them end up in police net.
Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Kelvin Abioseh-Samura, in charge of operations at the east-end Police Division, told Politico that over 1000 “violators” have been arrested in relation to the directive since the Ebola outbreak. He said they were still arresting people for the offence.
“We have arrested several people who violated the trade ban, even the past Sunday we arrested seven individuals. We charged five to court and released two on the grounds of their disabilities,” ASP Samura said.
Cyril Mattia, head of Public Relations at the Freetown City Council, said although they were losing close to five million Leones every Sunday in revenue due to the ban, banning Sunday trading was a laudable move. He said the ban had helped the Council clean the city.
“The ban needs to be rigidly enforced until there is complete sanity in the fight against Ebola,” he said.
The FCC spokesman said that was not the first time Sunday trading had been banned, adding that before the civil war it was prohibited to trade on Sunday.
He couldn’t confirm whether the council would support a permanent ban on Sunday trading.
“When we get to that bridge we will cross it,” he said.
Until now the restrictions remain in force, and if Sierra Leone can succeed in excluding Sunday from the list of days of doing business, it will have joined its neighbour Liberia where only the bear parlours operate on Sundays.
(C) Politico 03/02/16