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City council’s pain that just won’t go away

By | May 31st 2009

By Joe Kiarie

When Kenya celebrated its 43rd Madaraka Day on June 1, 2006, four people, among them a police officer, died during clashes between police and street vendors in the Nairobi Central Business District.

Three years down the line, a stray bullet killed a civil servant and a businessman was seriously injured as police confronted hawkers in the heart of Nairobi nine days ago.

Hawkers display wares along Nairobi’s Maragua Lane. Photo: File/Standard

On the same day, rioting hawkers burnt a fire engine worth Sh50 million belonging to the Mombasa Municipal Council, opposite Mwembe Tayari Market. They as well reduced a truck worth Sh2.5 million to ashes next to Mackinnon Market in an incident that

saw more than 10 council workers injured.

This summarises the never ending discord between the hawkers and council askaris.

But while all the key stakeholders in the dispute concur lack of proper operational centres for

the vendors is the root cause of the problem, none of them seems to have a clear answer when the issue will be addressed.

In Nairobi, hawkers have once again invaded Tom Mboya Street, Moi Avenue and some parts of

downtown Nairobi, nearly bringing all other businesses to a standstill.

And this is transpiring just over a year after they were settled in the Sh700 million Muthurwa market In an interview with The Standard on Sunday, the hawkers blame the Government for the mess.

They insist they will only leave the city centre permanently when the Government finds a long-term solution to their plight.

Nairobi Hawkers’ Association Chairman Hosea Mwangi says it is time the Local Government Ministry

accepted the ‘phenomenal’ fiasco and moved fast to act on the situation.

He says the current invasion of the city centre by hawkers has been sparked by their eviction

from Mwariro Market along Ronald Ngala Street in March, coupled with the degeneration of Muthurwa Market.

"When Mwariro market was inexplicably closed, those who operated from there had no option

but to enter the city centre to earn a living," Mwangi explains.

He says Muthurwa Market was a noble idea, but it is in tatters because the Government has failed

to enforce a directive that public service vehicles plying Nairobi’s Eastlands area operate from there.

"We thus have to follow our customers to the city centre. Again, Muthurwa has no electricity, running water and security, yet we have to pay a toll of Sh18,000 every year.

This is impossible and we are better locked at the Central Police Station where there is running

water than be dumped at Muthurwa," he says.

Chaotic exchange

Mwangi concedes hawkers sometimes act violently to defend their property, claiming the hooliganism

is usually provoked by the council askaris.

"The askaris do not treat us like human beings and we respond in kind.

When they arrest a hawker, they manhandle him/her, take huge bribes and still do not give back the goods they have seized. Why have mercy on such a person?" he wonders.

And although not willing to mention names, Mwangi admits some Nairobi politicians also help them gain access to the city centre, as was the case in the run up to the December 2007 General Election.

"But what they need at the end of the day are votes and the support ends once they have achieved their target," he says.

Local Government Assistant Minister Lewis Nguyai does not defend allegations against the Government.

"We have not provided enough public spaces for hawkers but we are focused on ensuring there is a

long-term solution," he says.

Nguyai says that while the Government has spent Sh1.6 billion on markets so far, the ministry

has pushed for a further Sh2.5 billion for markets in the next financial year.

He admits politicians are usually behind the presence of hawkers in town centres.

"There is laxity among the authorities during elections since politicians need votes.

But the hawkers affect so many businesses and tourism by operating from the city centre and they

thus will have to move out soon," he says. The Kikuyu MP notes that cases of hooliganism such as

those witnessed this month are sporadic and, though on a rise, are yet to hit crisis levels.

Total disorder

But the Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA) says the presence of hawkers in the city centre is intolerable.

NCBDA Chairman Timothy Muriuki vows his organisation would ensure the issue is resolved.

"They usually bring in a lot of disorder and insecurity. But what puzzles most is that the City

Council seems not to have the capacity to lock them out of the city centre and direly needs a back-up

from other wings of law enforcement," states Mr Muriuki.

He also blames the Government for not building enough markets for hawkers; a move he opines should provide a permanent solution to the problem.

"We should not condemn hawkers but perpetrating an illegality is not the solution at all," he says.

He proposes that the Government sets aside a day every week when hawkers can operate from one designated city street.

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