, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 17 – It is survival of the fittest for the hundreds of hawkers operating within Nairobi – mostly those within the Central Business District- as they grapple with deceit from politicians, lack of operating grounds and consistent attacks from the county askaris , largely referred as kanju.
Just like the antelopes in the jungle, who have to be vigilant just in case the predators show up, as well as feed or risk dying of starvation, most hawkers find themselves in such a situation.
They operate under a catch 22 situation.
Theirs is a problem that has existed for decades with administrations after another promising to provide alternative grounds to operate on, a promise that remains to be just that.
The Capital FM News crew happens to be on Mondlane Street, outside Tusky’s Beba Beba, a few steps from the entry point of the busy branch in one of the hectic evenings in Nairobi.
A group of women hawkers, accompanied by children who appear two to three years old have already spread their sacks and are busy attending to customers.
“Thirty, thirty,” one of the woman is shouting at the top of her voice to attract customers to purchase some fruits. “Machungwa, machungwa…” it is a market and every person is trying to draw more customers through their own unique ways.
Two black leather jacket clad men appear from nowhere and without identifying themselves, they violently disperse the hawkers, destroy their wares and proceed towards Tom Mboya.
“Please stop destroying my fruits,” one woman would be heard screaming as she struggles with the heavily built man who wanted to take some of them to a waiting vehicle.
Her wailing helps her this time after a crowd formed and the men swiftly leave.
“We are not here because we love it being in the streets of Nairobi or engage in marathons with the kanju,” the irritated woman said as she folds whatever she salvaged to proceed to another location.
But the problem is intense than it seems coupled with a corrupt system willing to make a kill from the hard earned sweat from the meagre income of the hawkers as established by Capital FM News.
– Hawkers arrest –
If you have been on Tom Mboya, River Road and sections of Moi Avenue, mostly in the evenings, you must have witnessed a group of people running in different directions while carrying sacks -those are hawkers.
Woe unto them when the county askaris catch up with one of them.
Majority of them told Capital FM News that if you try to resist, you will face with brutal force, with many sustaining serious injuries in the process.
“They have instilled fear since they normally carry knives and other blunt objects,” Victor King’ori, a hawker for eight years within the city said.
He is a victim of kanju brutality but that has never dampened his spirit “to work for my family. My three children and their mother are fed from the streets.”
As established by Capital FM News from the hawkers, ,majority of them do not get to court when arrested.
– Fear Factor –
Once arrested, an already beaten hawker is given two options, either bribe or go to court.
“It depends with how good you are in negotiating but it varies from Sh500 to Sh1,000 bribe,” John Mukuria, a city hawker for 30 years reveals.
Mukuria’s case is that of resilience amid challenges but for a good cause.
And when he started his hawking business, he says they were only a few but the number continues to multiply each day.
“We are now working with our sons and daughters who have gone to schools but cannot find a job. Instead of joining crime and yet they don’t have money to pay high fees or rent a business premises, they come to the streets,” a visibly anxious Mukuria said, all this time checking all directions.
His operating location is on Kimathi Street, where he plays hide and seek with the kanju in a bid to ensure he earns a living.
“We are not thieves. The County and the National Government just need to listen to our grievances,” he asserts.
He has been arrested several times though he only gets to court when, ” I don’t have anything to bribe them.”
It almost shocks if you don’t offer anything, he claims.
If taken to court, he says many are charged with four counts; littering the streets, resisting arrest, noise and obstruction, with each count fined Sh2000, which amounts to Sh8,000.
“Some of us, our operating capital is a Sh1 ,000. It is better to bribe than to go to court,” he says.
He goes ahead to show Capital FM News a Sh3,000 business permit – which was to serve him while on the streets – but it only shielded him from the wrath of the county askaris for two months before “they dismissed it as a mere paper.”
He went ahead to display a court order, barring the County Government from arresting him for operating on the streets – a specific place on Kimathi street – but it has been ignored as well.
“We do not have rights here yet we are in our own country,” he says.
His woes together with a few others have worsened after some county askaris – whom they can identify – decided to break into one of the rooms where they store their merchandise.
The incident has occurred twice and despite reporting to police, nothing has been done.
“That is stealing since they should only confiscate our goods if they are in the streets,” he said, while displaying the Occurrence Book numbers he was given by the police.
His experience is not isolated as many others have undergone similar or more challenging experiences.
– Politics in hawking –
Those who spoke to Capital FM News admitted to being used during election periods to advance a certain agenda of some politicians, but they are quickly ditched as soon as they get into office.
Among the promises it includes being allocated strategic places within the city where they can do business without getting into trouble with the authorities.
“What happens is the exact opposite of their promises,” Samson Mwangi, a hawker for eight years within the city says. “We are allowed to operate during campaigns and two to three months after the elections after which they kick off a major operation – we are forcefully dispersed.”
Politicians have also devised cunning ways to ensure the street hawkers don’t have one voice according to Mwangi.
“They have drawn a sharp tribal line where we are seen as either Kambas, Luos, Kikuyus rather than small traders in need of a market,” he says. “Any attempt to come together has always proven impossible since some of us are used to disrupt our plans.”
It is a few months to the 2017 General Election and already politicians are endearing themselves to the troubled group, with a stock of promises.
Governor Evans Kidero is on record as having said that he will not ‘touch’ the street hawkers since “they are votes.”
Several city legislators are said to ‘control’ a section of street hawkers, whom they ensure they are registered voters in their respective constituencies.
“We are just voters,” he says before another interjects saying, “Kwanza (mentions a name of an MP) is notorious. Anatutumia vibaya sana lakini tuko macho wakati huu (He misuses us but we are alert this time).”
It is wrong to operate within the city, as it can negatively hamper the security of the city residents, but hawkers are entitled to better services or at least a market.
“By the mere fact that we have more than 20,000 people operating in undesignated areas it means we have a serious unemployment problem,” one of the victims of kanju brutality who did not want to be named said.
Those operating on Tom Mboya Street, mostly near the Fire Station, did not want to speak to Capital FM crew, while some even threatened journalists.
“Every time we speak to media, that very day or the following day, we are chased. They have warned us against speaking to journalists,” one of them stated.
“If you try to even roll the camera, these people will kill you,” he cautioned. “We didn’t come to Nairobi so that we can be running up and down. We just want to make a living.”
But they admit to paying a certain fee, which it is not receipted for the askaris to turn a blind eye on them during their routine patrols.
It is a system where those who pay bribe thrives while a few ‘lambs’ are sacrificed and maybe it may just explain why we still have hawkers in our cities.
First Published by Capital News