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A solution for hawkers in Nairobi

Congratulations to the new Nairobi mayor and deputy mayor whoever they are. Let's hope they make something of their office over the next two or so years. However unless there is a radical overhaul of the Local Government Act, the man(woman) with the power to change the face of Nairobi remains the Town Clerk, currently one John Gakuo.

Today I have some unsolicited advice for Mr. Gakuo. I'm sure he is quite excited about the new Muthurwa market for hawkers recently setup by the Government at a cost of Sh. 1 billion plus ($14.3M). But I doubt that the market will achieve its primary goal, removing hawkers from the street. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Hawkers go where the market goes, and many buyers who give life to the street hawkers will not go to Muthurwa market
  2. Muthurwa market with its limited spaces is already grossly insufficient for the swelling numbers of hawkers
  3. The KSh. 100 daily entrance fee will appear prohibitively high for some hawkers vis-a-vis the expected fall in sales from relocating.
My solution came to me while considering new ways on marketing some training CDs for one of my companies Genius Forex. I considered whether hawking on the streets of CBD would be a viable distribution model. After studying hawkers and their buyers I saw that my K.Shs. 1,000 CDs might not make it in such a market which is dominated by fast moving 'luxury' items of between K.Shs. 20 and K.Shs 200.

These fast moving 'luxury' items (hereinafter FMLIs) are things bought on the whim which the buyer doesn't really need but buys because they are cheap enough. If the item bought does not satisfy the wants of the buyer there is a low risk of buyer disappointment since the item was relatively cheap. Such things include: clothes and shoes(almost entirely of the female kind), bootleg DVDs and CDs, beauty accessories and mobile phone accessories. Of course in addition to the FMLIs we have the fruits and vegetable hawkers, but I'll consider these separately.

The FMLIs are bought mainly by: the working class leaving their offices starting from 5 pm; and by evening students in the several Nairobi colleges/campuses leaving their classrooms around the same times. Most of these buyers will make impulse purchases from the hawkers as they walk towards their bus stages, which are concentrated between Globe Cinema Roundabout, River Road, Railways, and Tom Mboya Street or Kencom Bus Station. This explains why the most coveted hawking streets are Kimathi Street and Moi Avenue: still in the 'respectable' side of CBD yet near enough to the bus stages (so less opportunities for muggers and less distance to walk with luggage); and away from the hustle and bustle of matatus and their conductors.

Based on these observations I present the following solution. Instead of chasing hawkers to where they do not want to go, why can't Gakuo and co. regulate hawkers to where they want to be. This can be done in the following way.
  1. Designate as hawking zones, those streets with highest pedestrian traffic and lowest vehicular traffic. e.g. Kimathi Street.
  2. Designate 6 pm and 10 pm as operational times for the hawking zones
  3. Ban vehicular traffic in the hawking zones during operational times.
  4. Have foldable stalls available for daily rent from the city council by interested hawkers
  5. Ban any hawkers who do not have a city council stall.
  6. Require food vendors to get health certificates
  7. Install sufficient lighting in the hawking zones
  8. Use rent fees to make sure there are adequate facilities for waste disposal.
  9. Have a tourist corner where items targeted at tourists can be sold
I'm sure my rough solution could do with a lot of polishing up. Would be glad to hear your ideas, and perhaps we can forward it to Gakuo and see whether he takes a fancy in it.


bankelele said…
I like the idea of regulating hawkers, but feel that is only a small part of the solution. You have so start with kiosks regulate their operations, have standard formats for construction, density, advertising, waste management and aesthetics. KRA would love that as they would now be compliant. The city council has succeeded in this around the Nairobi Hospital area –and by covering other parts of the city would improve the image and their tax base at the same time
Anonymous said…
I am biased but I don't like hawkers.

However, I am also a capitalist. You can not chase hawkers by segregating them. You can only chase them by making their business impossible to run.

Not by chasing them from the streets but who the hell is going to come up with a walmart in Kenya? Walmart is the biggest hawker in the world. They just got organised.

I would go into that business but I really don't like retail.

Hawkers are here to stay untill some young guy somewhere learns he can sell his stuff cheaper if he buys more and sells at lower prices.
Kenya Stories said…
You may be interested in checking out or blogging about It has a network of other young entrepreneurs in Kenya, and maintains its own blog
Anonymous said…
Thanks to the blog owner. What a blog! nice idea.
Unknown said…
The ideas are mind boggling and should be lauded.

However,hawkers should not be favored over other city dwellers unless We want to turn Nairobi into a welfare city.

Dont get me wrong though,every Nairobian need to have a proportionate share of the city space and this should be reflected in the way we plan our towns and cities.

We should Neva Eva allocate spaces to anyone just because it appears their natural habitat......this would encourage others to lay claim to our treasures.

Let the hawkers get used to living in more organized and planned areas since this is a priority in all our blueprints including Vision 2030.

With all its failings the debate ought to be about improving Muthurwa Market and its environs if we are to retain our position in the animal kingdom!

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