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It’s time to harness the hustlers’ killer instinct

By XN Iraki | March 25th 2020

Twenty-four hours after the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kenya, I took a walk in downtown Nairobi, ending at Kenyatta Avenue outside the old Cameo building. Remember Cameo Cinema?

There, outside the building, wearing face masks and armed with sanitisers were hustlers, better called hawkers, selling the most sought-after items – face masks and sanitisers.

It’s not clear where they got these rare items amid the scarcity. There are two possibilities: they were either fakes or were being hoarded before the announcement. The truth is not necessary for now.

The presence of these hustlers showed killer instincts honed by reality and hardship. Do you notice how they get umbrellas into the streets mere moments after it starts raining?

They have mastered seasons, occasions, events – and it seems even the unexpected.

 You find hustlers, better called entrepreneurs, in weddings, graduation ceremonies and even funerals selling their merchandise. And along Mombasa Road and the Thika Highway, they love traffic jams.

Hustlers know no adversity in their quest to make money. Any serious economist will confess without coercion that these hustlers are the closest to perfect markets, with all available information on what the consumers want.

Yet business schools and policy makers see them as a nuisance. In fact, it is unlikely that an MBA or PhD student can write a thesis on hustling; it would be considered uncool, despite being realistic.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that 83 per cent of Kenyans work in the informal sector, otherwise called Jua Kali or hustling. We are a nation of hustlers, it seems, in good times and bad times. I am, however, left wondering why, ‘wagangas’ from neighbouring countries have not advertised a cure for coronavirus.

 Let’s think loudly. Suppose the hustler’s killer instinct is allowed to flower so that their timeliness and first-mover advantage becomes part of our economic lives? Suppose their killer instinct permeates into the public sector and big private sector firms, which take a long time to make even the simplest of decisions? Would that not transform our economy overnight?

Our policy makers and political leaders focus too much on big things, forgetting the small things and players who run our economy. They may dirty the city and crowd it, but hustlers’ killer instinct is a national asset. It’s time we harnessed it.

XN Iraki; [email protected]

Covid 19 Time Series


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