Nairobi hawkers’ freedom infringes on nobody’s rights, or does it?

Hawkers running from security
NAIROBI: Your freedom probably only ends where my rights begin, they ought to know that.

The infamous cat-rat business between hawkers and the county security characteristic of various corridors of Nairobi town ought to be put in a logical perspective now that it has been put in black and white by the Independent Medical Legal Unit (IMLU) that police are killing hawkers.

The IMLU report which also indicates that hawkers usually have to bribe these security officers by whatever means including sexual rewards from female victims, is released at time when the country has embraced sanity to implement measures to guard respect of others and therefore culprits involved in acts of violence against others should be dealt with.

Such maltreatment happens when hawkers engage the county security in hide and seek when they display their merchandise for sale in ‘not permitted’ areas especially in busy streets of Nairobi where the goods are exposed to quick market.

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The goods, which mostly comprise clothes, handbags and shoes, are no doubt cheaper when compared to similar items in boutiques and this attracts young women who are always eager to keep trendy in fashion while spending as little as possible.

The only intruder in these juicy transactions is the county security officials. They keep chasing hawkers up and down and those who are caught undergo unimaginable turmoil. Their merchandise is destroyed and they themselves are swept away to undergo only God knows what. In fact as it occurs, nothing stops security from pulling the trigger.

It’s no doubt hawking in restricted areas has some ugly outcomes. Hawking at a busy street brings about congestion which amounts to all sorts of crime. Customers should be on the alert because when a rat smell the cat approaching, it runs away with the bit in its fangs and hawkers give no second thought to running away with a customer’s money even before they are done with the transaction provided they smell danger and surely in such a case, no one would take the blame.

The above though, are instances where council harassment of hawkers have irrelevant grounds.

Hawkers give a face to ladies who can’t afford the boutique wardrobe. Most of the items they sell are second hand which are pocket friendly and give one not so bad looks.

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It is never funny when a hawker sweeps away their merchandise when you are just about to buy an item you badly need and for this, security can’t be applauded. To the public, this is unforgivable.

The debate also amounts to principles of morality-those that go beyond laid down frameworks that cut the line between right and wrong. Would we for instance, crucify a poor man who steals some little food from another rich man that has more than he needs to save his starving children? In as much as laws of any country would spell it punishable to steal, our poor man deserves mercy.

Hawkers have families too, we only need to penetrate their core to know what drove them to such a risky business that can lead to one losing their lives without a trace. Many have hungry mouths to feed and children to pay school fees for and so they resort to buying and selling the cheap second hand items that require little to start and earns fairly quick cash.

As for congestion in hawking areas, the ball is in the public’s court. In such areas, always clutch tightly to whatever you hold dear as it can be snatched away.

What we need to understand is that hawkers are here to stay, one because they serve the public needs, if for the least of reasons. Others will always be in the game because they are stubborn. Basic entrepreneurial knowledge informs us that hawkers who are in constant battle with the county security know how best to make from operating under risks.

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Those of us who however, allow them to operate do so because we understand that these people have needs too. After all, hawkers do the least to interfere with others’ rights and those who restrict their operations interfere with the buyers’ freedom.

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Nairobi Hawkers Independent Medical Legal Unit report