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Why rural folk beat Nairobians in entrepreneurship

By XN Iraki | Feb 9th 2022 | 2 min read
By XN Iraki | February 9th 2022

Men push handcart from Wakulima market in Nairobi on Tuesday, February 2, 2021.[Collins Kweyu, Standard]

I recently overheard a conversation in which a Nairobian — born and bred in the capital — was complaining that rural folks (watu wa shaggs) find them in town and beat then at entrepreneurship.

That sent me thinking.

Beyond the old money, where do Nairobians feature in entrepreneurship? How many indigenous Nairobians are hawkers, maize roasters or mkokoteni pushers? How many start enterprises from the ground? Maybe in Eastlands and informal settlements. 

Generally, rural folks outdo Nairobians in entrepreneurship, it does not matter whether it’s soft like changing currency or hard like hawking. 

That should not surprise us. Rural folks go through lots of hardships as they learn to solve their problems. They have no switches! A switch for lighting, the microwave, heating water, making juice and more. A switch to start the car to take you to school. I am not praising hardship.

The difficult life in rural areas makes these men and women handy physically but also patient. Think of waiting for six months to harvest maize, dry it, take it to the mill before getting ugali.

Someone else in the city gets ready flour in the supermarket. Think of feeding cows, milking them and transporting milk to collection centres. Compare that with someone who buys packed milk in kiosks or supermarkets.

Rural folks also learn to be resilient in adversity. Rain fails often, they walk to school and church and have no insurance or pension. No wonder they are so prayerful.

When they see opportunities they are not that choosy unlike Nairobians and their idealism. 

It’s the change of environment that gives rural folks a competitive edge. Nairobians rarely visit the rural areas which they often look down upon. Rural folks are children of two worlds. Immigrants thrive abroad for the same reason. The US is a leader in accepting immigrants and assimilating them.

We can say with confidence that Nairobi is a parasite depending on rural areas for food, labour and entrepreneurship. Their only edge is capital mobilisation, which rural folks access to be entrepreneurs in the city. 

Perhaps I am biased because I am a rural folk who came to the city as a schoolboy but never left. Can Nairobians defend themselves if they feel I am biased? 

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