Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Case For The Street Vendor

Street Vendors. They’re viewed by many as tax evaders, a nuisance to the public, a disgrace to society and sometimes as disguised muggers. First off, the hard facts. Street vendors do hog pavements and force pedestrians onto the roads. They inconvenience tax paying shop owners. They crowd the streets and make it easier for muggers to do what they do best. They cause much littering. Some are plain annoying, like those who hound passersby and put their wares in their faces.

All these they may be but that’s because their contribution is not factored in urban policies and there are no frameworks set for them to work along. These traders are an economic necessity. They have every right to contribute to the growth of the economy and to make a living for themselves and their families. Their input is very much a part and parcel of the Economic Development Plan that is Vision 2030 and should receive attention, solid governing policies, and even incentives. They need intervention to better their trade, not oppressive regulations.

In Mombasa for example, currently the streets are clear of hawkers. A few still sell their goods amid running battles with Kanju, but majority have left the streets. They’ve been herded and allocated space in far off Buxton which is right at the beginning of Nyali Bridge. Save for Mombasa Poly students, residents of that area, and people boarding Kilifi Malindi matatus, there isn’t enough human traffic there to sustain any business. Others have been moved to Mbaraki, an awkward side of the island where people rarely visit. Yet the essence of their trade is to bring wares closer to the people.

Street vendors cannot be pushed to a far off corner and ignored. What they need is space and accommodation. There is enough land in town and local governments have enough money to build markets. If someone tried hard enough the solutions are there. So it all boils down to the question of good leadership. And the cycle begins all over again.


Our Kid said...

The problem of street vendors, nay, hawkers is that they also infringe on the little they have. They clog a place, sell the same things and have like all other Kenyans have no sense of responsibility and will litter a street like there is no tomorrow.

Moving them to a market may not make sense since most after-work shoppers are impulse shoppers who often don't go hunting for something.

Instead, the street hawkers should have a 'happy hour' each week to sell their wares on some streets within town.

You actually used the word Kanju!?! Wololo mayeee!

Eunuch said...

Our street vendors and the menace they cause are all OUR CREATION. Just like we vote in scoundrels for leaders, we keep the street vendows in business by buying their wares.

Our culture of HELL FOR LEATHER has no room for order. Speak of planing and let it gather dust on those shiny shelves. We are our own enemies. If you don't want cochroaches you keep your kitchen clean and they starve to death. Similarly avoid the vendors and they will all go.

Try convinncing a Kenyan to do just that and it will be akin to selling icecream to an Eskimo.

Shiko-Msa said...

Our Kid for sure the streets are clearer right now. But one cannot even send for a banana or apple mpaka happy hour?

I used Kanju and the spell checker did not underscore it. Seems they've fist fought their name into thesaurus although no meaning was forthcoming.

Eunuch these traders are an economic necessity. They have every right to contribute to the growth of the economy and to make a living for themselves and their families. The idea is to keep them in business but in an organized manner.

Cee said...

A street without hawkers is clean and quiet, but a walk along that street is very boring. I won't lie, when I'm in a hurry the hawkers are a bother but when I'm just "wandering" in tao, damn the hawkers are really good. It's like Nakumatt, now it's just that "ALL ALONG THE SAME STREET" makes shopping easy and convinient. I love hawkers and I do miss them...

Tamaku said...

These are fellow citizens. Why should they be denied the right to earn a living with dignity in their own country? It makes me sad.

Mama said...

I don't like hawkers!

Screamer said...

I don't like hawkers neither.

But me thinks the problem does not even begin with hawkers but ends with them. Economic growth is a balancing act, by failing to grow in other areas we are stunting or slowing down the growth of another. That is why the issue of hawkers has no single definite solution that will guarantee success. Dunno if someone hears me...

BP 1 said...

If I am not wrong, Street hawkers are poverty stricken Kenyans trying to earn money to feed themselves and their families.So what is the logic behind having a clean and quite streets without hawkers when thousands Men/women are denied earning their leaving by hawking .

Let Hawkers carry on with their business anywhere in the city till the government comes up with a better options

Shiko-Msa said...

It is indeed Sad Tamaku.

Mama I hear you Lol. There are the mannerless ones of course who chase you around selling socks and nail clippers. Others knock on car windows or if you're in a mat they rudely open the window and push tropicals and KSLs in your face. Those are really annoying.

But others are good and well mannered. Like there was a project in Msa to enable deaf and dumb people operate small stalls in the streets to sell small time items like sweets. It's sad that those too have been kicked out.

Cee sometimes they actually block whole streets and pedestrians have to find ways of moving around. I don't mind them but such issues are the ones that need addressing. But I must say they really bring stuff close.

BP some are poor. But let others not fool you. Case in point those selling shoes and clothes. Many of them have stalls in the market (In our case Kongowea). They spend the day selling and only get their assistants to bring stuff to town at around 4 to capture the crowd leaving work. Otherwise whether they're on the streets or not they can still make a good living.

Then there is the group that is just plain greedy. They can afford stalls but they don't want to spend that 10 or so K and yet they're making so much. You'll find these ones selling shoes for as much as 6k a pair. On the streets.

La5226 said...

I like the fact that u looked at the positives and the negatives of street vendors. The mess the government built in nairobi in the name of Muthurwa market is an eye sore...A hastily built monstrosity that makes that part of town look bila mpango...If markets are to be built let them look decent.They are kenyans not pigs so why should they build a 'sty' in the name of a market.Lakini seriously am not for hawkers all over the's overwhelming to walk around. They should allocate appropriate areas I agree.Cool post:-)

Darius Stone said...

Just like other business men and women are subject to different laws and regulations, we shouldn't apply selective amnesia when it comes to hawkers. The argument that they are poor Kenyans who deserve a chance to make a living is self defeatist. This is absolutely no reason for them to be given special preference.

Granted, the local authority could be much more organized and show leadership in terms of providing better conditions or terms for the hawkers to operate, but my view is they also have a responsibility to keep the city ticking along and not become a law unto themselves. One thing that needs to happen for sure is that they should be taxed for using that space in town. There's absolutely no reason why an employee should pay tax and the hawkers get away with it with our sympathy because there poor. That's nonsense.

I must admit though, hawkers provide some vintage moments of comedy.....I remember one who was selling women's wares of all manner and a few ladies were hovering around contemplating whether to invest in the sunshine battered and discoloured outfits...and one woman decided she wasn't going to buy the tantalizingly priced night dress and underwear package....

The hawker in a desperate attempt to get her to change her mind shouted back "Mama...wacha kulala kama nyoka...nunua night dress"....LOL! The whole place just cracked up laughing.

Mama said...


In Nairobi, they take one whole lane in the middle of the road and lay their wares on sacks there!! You can imagine the jam they cause...tena they are so rude to drivers if told to move so that cars can pass.

After they finish selling they wake up and leave all the paper bags on the road. Then when there is a 'kanju' crack down...................uuuuuuh!! It is not a rare thing for some of them to be hit by vehicles near Globe Cinema roundabout and Ngara coz they just run everywhere!!

One day I saw this hawker who was selling fruits near that Old Nation roundabout, she had a crawling baby in tow, she was so busy gossiping with other mama mbogas, she did not notice the baby had crawled away, then we had this weird cracking sound coming from the road. A taxi was reversing and it reversed right onto the baby's legs. Then she starts screaming, 'Uuuuuwi, uuuuuuuwi umekanyaga mtoto wangu, kwani huonangi mahali unaenda?' Please tell me how the driver was supposed to see a crawling baby? Moreover, she forced the driver to take her baby to hospital (which he was willing to do anyway) but the tone with which she was asking, you would have thought the driver was on the wrong. Kumbe ni yeye alikuwa anapiga domo tu hapo!

Honestly I don't like hawkers in town. Let them sell their wares at Muthurwa market and Ngara in Nairobi we will follow them there if we need their stuff.

joyunspeakable said...

okay....some dukawallas send teir employees to hawk their stuff....

In kenya, whoever is presented as poor is normally the face of the rich..

I can bet you that most guys appearing with expensive items are just but appearing on behalf of some masters somewhere. This is the way Kenyans beat the game of tax.

Shiko-Msa said...

LA5226 I too am all for decent markets. Thanks for stopping by. The timing of Muthurwa is unfortunate. At this time of the century when we're supposed to be doing proper planning and beautification of the urban areas.

Stone Cold the decent markets should of course come with the relevant taxes and rates. If they're provided with markets and still don't want to contribute then hata wao they can't be helped.

Mama that is one careless mum. Who would even begin to expect a crawling baby on the road? I hear you on Muthurwa and Ngara. Question is utaenda muthurwa?

Joy true hawking is no longer a reserve of the poor. If the dukawalas are part and parcel of the problem then clearly there's much more to deal with. rot is not just on politicians.

Anonymous said...

Hawkers need to eat too, but they CAN be a nuisance. Imagine how walkable--and more enjoyable, say, Nairobi would be if hawkers, matatus and buses were all banished from the central business district.

Eunuch said...

Hebu sema ukweli and please clear the air: confirm or deny that you have leased 10+ stalls in Muthurua and busy shopping for tenants (including Ciku). Happy Easter and may you break all the EGGS.

SG said...

If you really need to buy something, you will go to Muthurwa or Ngara or whatever other place the hawkers are located.

The hawkers are not as poor as presumed. They do good business and they too can pay taxes like the rest of the others with shops. I know this because I have two friends who quit their well earning jobs to be hawkers. one was a sales man with an insurance firm while the other was a delivery guy with a pharmaceutical firm.

The traffic congestion they cause in Nairobi are unbearable. Like if you have a car, dont dare venture into Tom Mboya if you do not have enough fuel. The chaos! You cant comfortably shop at Tuskys on Tom Mboya because they are allover there. Littering and other the muggings. Am not for them to be in the streets.

But there was this suggestion that they be allowed to hawk in the city centre and specifically on Koinange street. I dont know what happened to this plan atleast it would have made the koinange a real 'coin-age' street. Wasnt a baaaad suggestion. One day a week would have been ok but every ay of the week is absurd

val said...

Interesting post...and the comments as well. The problem is that the markets start to look dingy after some time..littering and what placing fines is a good idea (for the littering and what not)..whether this would actually work...hmm

What breaks my heart is seeing the children running in the middle of traffic selling stuff..

As for that mother...ashindwe! Poor baby..

UrXlnc said...


this is an interesting topic. the comments above are excellent i wonder whether the bloggers can discuss further. it appears our whole kenyan mentality has been taken over by informal methods of conducting business, social life, politics etc

its amazing that we have all spent a significant amount of time in schools and colleges, learning how to do stuff formally and as soon as we hit the streets we do all we can to switch to informal (loosely used to mean opposite of orderly and structured or mainstream licensed methods and includes mild to extensive corruption)

informal traders (hawkers), informal transportation (matatus and tout system), informal justice (mob justice and kangaroo courts) etc

you are right leadership is missing and has been missing for a long time, people do not see any value in going through or adhering to formal channels

in short we use the quickest means possible to arrive at a goal, then spend years or our lifetimes attempting to fix whats wrong with it.

Shiko-Msa said...

I hear you guys. The hawking problem is definitely not nearly as bad in Msa as it seems to be in Nairobi. Understandably so. Many hawkers here have now found themselves space in the numerous stalls in town although they’re still waiting for kanju to relax so they can pour back onto the streets. But still there are those who genuinely cannot afford to raise enough to cover rent, police, kanju and the equally unregulated money lenders.

It’s unfortunate how not just the politicians but also regular wananchi are wallowing in quick selfish fixes and impunity. Greed sometimes disguised as poverty seems to have taken over the best of minds.

Fines will just become another cash cow for kanju. Oh this is such a cycle it’s annoying! Littering is a question of personal responsibility. Like Mama Ngina Drive, a popular sea front hangout here in Mombasa, food vendors are personally responsible keeping their spaces clean. Failure to comply and they could get kicked out of this very lucrative area. They’re relaxing a bit but the place is still generally clean considering the huge numbers of people who go there.

Greamz what’s the criteria for Koinange? There’s high population there ama? I’m not kidding btw. Other than it’s dubious reputation, I know zip about Koinange.