Street Food, a Notable Creator of Culture & Development.
Artist. What images are conjured when the word “artist” comes to mind?
When the word “artist” is explored, people immediately think about the conventional greats. Examples are Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Goh, Pablo Picasso, etc. Perhaps, one could attribute our shared understanding of unique art to the popular displays of sculptures and paintings in galleries.
However, art has always been subjective; even the century-old adage reads, ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’
Today one could say that the true artists of our world are street food vendors. In many cities worldwide, street vendors’ elegance, dexterity, precision, and panache are observed and interacted with from any corner. And every day, an approximation of 2.5 billion people worldwide consume street food.
Despite all this praise, one question is spotlighted, how do these seemingly unconventional artists create a more sustainable future for themselves and street food culture as a whole?
The Influence Of The Community On Street Food.
All across the globe, food has always been an integral aspect of culture. With many ethnic groups on the African continent, one could easily have an out-of-body food experience. The melange of textures, bold flavors, gorgeous hues, and irresistible scents are weaved together to create individualized dishes.
Similarly, wali na maharage is eaten during funerals and weddings in Tanzania. Given the importance of food, it is no surprise that various deliciously home-cooked meals have trickled their way into the streets with a twist.
From the sizzle of a char-grilled chicken leg to the pop of a deep-fried sambusa, Uganda effortlessly slips into the conversation regarding the evolving power of street food.
Yet, despite the exhausting list of options, one street food dominates for both its taste and creativity: the Rolex, a vegetable-egg roll cocooned by a chapatti. This simple meal has slowly morphed into a national treasure.
In 2016, the Ugandan tourism minister announced the start of the #RolexFestival as a tourist attraction. In 2019, an approximation of 53,000 exhilarated citizens and foreigners gathered to commemorate the infamous street food, which generated approximately 700 million Ugandan shillings.
Without many realizations, perhaps one could argue that we could learn a thing or two from street vendors.
Behind The Scenes Of Street Food.
Conventionally, street food has been indulged by people of a lower financial class. This paradigm stemmed from people deeming street food and its vendors unclean and disease-ridden.
This belief could be attributed to the origins in ancient Greece, primarily because people lacked ovens in their homes to create a home-cook meal.
As a result, people turned to the streets to feed themselves. However, with the growing popularity, street food has enabled people of various socioeconomic classes to enjoy an array of food creations.
Vendors are at perpetual misunderstanding with the Ugandan government despite the small wins. Development policies are written purposefully, excluding street food vendors mainly because they are classed as contributors to the informal sector.
The consistent argument to justify exclusion is that hawkers and vendors eat at space assigned to organizations and businesses that contribute to the formal sector. Statistical analyst for UN women, Ghida Ismail shares in an interview about the inhumane realities Ugandan street food vendors experienced during the COVID-19 lockdown:
“The government rolled out food packages to support vulnerable groups affected by the lockdown, including for taxi drivers and street vendors. However, the high rate of exclusion from databases means authorities have been unable to grasp the number of people impacted, their exact locations, and their level of vulnerability and needs, which hinders the ability and efficiency of targeting relief measures.”
Similarly, in a report published by The World Bank entitled, “Uganda: About the Second Economic Update,” the organization writes:
“This [informal] sector is a major provider of employment in urban areas, absorbing large numbers of school leavers, migrants from rural areas, and others who cannot find employment within the formal sector. The informal sector has the potential to continue to generate more jobs, but the Government must implement measures to overcome obstacles to their productivity growth.”
Undeniably, street vendors have played a commendable role in creating, shifting, and sustaining the cuisine culture in Uganda. One could argue that their labor is deserving of policies that legalize their trade while highlighting the necessities of their craft.
Despite all the evident pizzaz in their cooking and serving processes, being a street food vendor is incredibly demanding. The lack of support from inclusive policies makes practicing their craft and gaining money even more challenging.
How Can Uganda Prepare for the Future: From Margin to Centre.
With many African cities, Uganda inclusive, embracing urbanization, city planners must be well equipped to handle the influx. In Uganda, bustling cities will grow even busier as people spill in from rural areas, other African countries, neighboring countries, etc., searching for a better quality of life.
The World Bank argues that by 2040, Uganda’s urban population will be at an incredible 20 million people. This exponential growth immediately centers on the importance of street food. Street food’s most integral clientele will predominantly cause the influx.
They will need fast, nutritious and cheap food to sustain themselves. While the importance of supporting street food vendors has not been immediately recognized, an organization argues otherwise.
The Rolex Initiative is a woman-led organization founded by Enid Mirembe, the former Miss Tourism for Busoga region, in 2015/2016. They commenced a movement entitled “Rolexpreneur.”
The initiative’s goal is to strengthen further Rolex’s popularity in the hope that it is recognized as a national meal. Additionally, their initiative teaches street food vendors ways to cook more hygienically while offering financial support to street food vendors in Uganda.
With monetary and social assistance from United Nations Development Programme and Kampala Capital City Authorities, this initiative revolutionizes the street food sector while highlighting the importance of including all sectors for smoother development.
A further highlight on Uganda “rolex” was in the Guiness world records . The largest Ugandan rolex weighed at 204.6 kg (451 lb) was created by Raymond Kahuma (Uganda), in Kasokoso, Wakiso District, Uganda, on 4 November 2021.
To ensure that the future of African countries is almost problem-proof, governments need to begin to think outside the box, even if it means the desperately needed sustainable solutions are unorthodox.
Street food is the plinth on which urban-life culture is built. Now is the perfect time for policies to include and support the longtime culinary street artists.
Nana Adjoa Mensa-Shebra
Second year student the @African Leadership University| Global Challenges Major | Research & Data Analysis Enthusiast | Intersectional Feminist