Any kind of work is work, so goes a popular Swahili saying in East Africa. Mr Gideon M. Musyoki, a newspaper vendor who operates in Kenya?s Eastern Province town of Machakos, talks to African Executive staff writer Josephat Juma about his business and how it sustains a family of five.
African Executive: Briefly tell us about yourself.
Vendor: I am married to one wife and have a family of three children. I own one-quarter acre of land.
Q: How did you begin this business?
A: I sold some of my goats and deposited Kshs1,500 ($20) with the two dailies (The Standard and Nation).
Q: For how long have you been doing this business?
A: For the last ten years.
Q: Is it profitable?
A: I live from hand to mouth. I sell 40 to 50 newspapers everyday. As you can see, this is a difficult task, for two other newspaper vendors are located very close to me. I can?t depend on my shamba (land) for the rains here are unpredictable. Even if they were, it yields only ninety kilograms of maize per year. The commission I get from the papers is too little for family sustenance.
Q: How much do you make at the end of each day?
A: A hundred shillings (about $1.3). I have a wife and children. We need food and clothing. The children need school fees. Malaria is prevalent here and drugs are quite expensive. Since my home is far, I have rented a room on the outskirts of the town. Until recently I was being billed by the water authorities for an empty tap! I buy a kilo of sugar at Kshs70 and water at Kshs30 daily. Can a hundred shillings accommodate all this?
Q: How do you cope with these financial challenges?
A: I have developed good relations with my customers. I allow them to take papers and pay for them at the end of the month. I collect papers every morning and sell them in the estates before parading the remainders on the street. I also sell cigars, sweets and a few other magazines.
Q: What are some of the problems you encounter in your trade?
A: The council fees are too high. I pay Kshs2,000 ($27) for the license every year. The commission I get from the sale of the papers is too little. I have no shelter thus operate at the mercy of the weather. If I had enough money, I would have paid for a four-year permit and a deposit of Kshs20,000 ($267) with the paper firms. I long to be a major distributor.
Q: Would you say there are incentives to do business in this town?
A: What incentives when the permit fee is high? What incentives when the police hound us out of town as early as 7pm? What incentives when hawkers can neither be allowed to sell their goods on the street nor in the estates? Walk through this town and you will meet many mad men and women. Some end up strangling their children to death. Others commit suicide. Some go away from home never to return .Why? They were cornered. They were pushed to the wall by life. When they couldn?t withstand the pressure, their heads went nuts.
The council, far from demanding bribes, wants everyone in the market. The market is crowded. The market is away from most customers. When the bell rings at a certain hour, every one should pack his goods and leave.
Q: What is your description of the plight of an average Kenyan?
A: The average Kenyan is like a bird trapped in a cage or a cadaver in a medical school. We are trapped and experimented upon by global and local forces. Who is affected most when there are price hikes? Me, with my Kshs100 or the minister with his Kshs700,000 ($9,330) salary? Don?t we all buy sugar at Kshs70? Go to some parts of Makindu; there?s absolutely no one in the middle-class. Visit sections of Ikutha division; there?s practically no one in the lower-class. The majority are under class.
Q: Any message to the powers that be?
A: Any country needs three essential elements - men, money and machines. The greatest of them is men. A nation?s basic resource is people and these people should be developed. Money and machines become sterile and unproductive without the right kind of men to use them.
Why spent one million shillings ($13,330) per constituency to build an office but ignore promoting micro-enterprises? Why boast of agriculture being the backbone of the country when for years we have been unable to construct a single dam?
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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