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11 - 18 October 2006 
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Hawkers: Menace or Handy?

A walk through the Nairobi city leaves one with questions. Other than the noise made by Passenger Service Vehicles and touts as they beckon passengers, hawkers and children go about their business vigilant of the city council askaris. If one was purchasing a commodity and the city council askaris appear, the hawker may run away with his money or commodity marking the end of the transaction. The African Executive caught up with two children Martin (11), Cynthia (7) and Tume Guyo (their mother) on the streets and shared their experiences.

Q. What time do you come here?

Martin: At 4 pm after school, my mother picks me up.We all head to the  streets.

Cynthia: At around 8pm with my mother.

Q. What do you sell?

Martin: Paper bags. I target those people who buy things on the streets and have no place to put them.

Cynthia: I sell snacks such as sweets, chewing gums and biscuits among others. I also sell paper bags when my brother is in school. Other than that, I assist my mother in selling second hand clothes and shoes.

Q. Why aren’t you in school?

A. I will join school next year.

Q. Where exactly are you located?

Tume: We have no specific place. We are always on the move in search of customers. One time you will find me in Ngara, another time in town and in various estates. It is a matter of being mobile looking for where I can get customers and at the same time fleeing from the city council askaris.

Q. Why do you have to play hide and seek with them?

Tume:  Because it is illegal to hawk in the city centre, yet this is where one is likely to get more clients. So one has to keep watching out for them.

Q. What are your challenges?

Tume: Our major problem is the city council askaris. They are too brutal. If they get hold of you they beat you and force you into their tracks. The government also demolishes our stands and in the estates that we have struggled putting up. What is better between feeding myself from my own sweat and mugging people? Another challenge is from the public especially if one is on the streets. At times, Passenger Service Vehicles (P.S.Vs) drive on our goods hence destroying them, at the same time people keep stepping on them. This creates so much friction that leads to exchange of words.

Martin: Discrimination. Almost everyone tells us we should be in school. Some buy our goods while others shun us.

Q. What do you think should be done?

Tume: The government should respect us and listen to our views. I believe they can construct permanent structures in the city centre, a place that is easily accessible. If they take us to the back lanes and on the outskirts of Nairobi, we may lose some customers who may not feel uncomfortable visiting these areas. Back lanes are known for so many evils being on the outskirts. Why don’t they place us in a neutral place? This will make us more efficient as when one buys some commodity and has to return it; one knows a specific place to go. But look at us today, the customer may not trace the seller and this affects our relationship with the customer. The customer feels cheated. The government should keep in mind that we belong to the informal sector and we contribute to the growth of the economy.

For the city council askaris, they should just arrest us and take us to court. They do not have to beat us. This is what brings violence. We have heard several lives being lost as a result of these clashes.

Q. Aren’t you risking the children’s lives too?

Tume: The reason behind this is to expose them to business. They must learn to fend for themselves early enough. When they collect a few coins and I do the same, we shall fill the basket. Most of these children you see here do different kinds of jobs ranging from carrying luggage, selling paper bags, showing customers around among others at a fee. Once they have had enough for the day, they join their parents and go home.

Q. But I have seen other children just borrowing money from people

Tume: Yes there are and that is a bad habit. They should be punished. They should labor and not get things for free; those people they borrow from have worked for that money too.

Q. Are these children usually alone?

Tume: No. In most cases their mothers sit somewhere and monitor their movement. At times they signal them on who to borrow money from. We always have incidents of mothers beating their children if they do not get some money from someone or if they do not meet the target that the mother had set.

Q. Are there cases of theft?

Tume: Yes, once in a while. But this has reduced this year, after a child was almost murdered by the public for stealing someone’s mobile phone. It was very sad.

Q. How much do you make per day?

A. On a good day especially at the end and beginning of the month I make up to Ksh. 3,000, however on bad day, less than Ksh. 500.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. Currently I specialize on second hand clothes and shoes. I intend to an African wear stalls along Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya. I shall be designing them and making them.

Q. Do you know tailoring skill?

A. Yes a little. I will only need to perfect my skills.

Q. Any advice to Kenyans?

A. Yes. We must know that we are the only ones who can solve our problems. We choose leaders to represent us, but they cannot do this without having to listen to the people they are representing. I look forward to a country where the leaders will listen to the views of the marginalized and make decisions that are appropriate. Unless leaders identify with our problems, we shall keep complaining of the very same problems. 



By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer

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