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Hustling for survival is universal, even in London

General view of empty streets and a poster of the UK government's public health campaign as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Watford, Britain, March 23, 2020. [Reuters, Paul Childs]

Would you expect to find a kibanda (stand) selling vegetables in London, the UK of all places? Yes, in one of the world’s financial centres?

The truth is that they are there, though more organised. The prices were jaw-breaking, with a watermelon going for £4 or about (Sh600). Most of these fruits and vegetables are imported. An example is Dominican bananas.

The long supply chains lead to higher prices. I took sugarcane juice in another kibanda inside Westfield Mall in Shepherd’s Bush, one of the coolest parts of London. The sugarcane was from Egypt. The drink, about half a litre cost me about Sh750.

Why vibanda in London, the city that was founded by the Romans who ruled England from 43 AD to the fifth century AD? One, contrary to movies, every country has men and women at the bottom of the pyramid. In the UK, we have the Royal family and the ordinary men and women.

Such ordinary men's and women’s needs must be met in ordinary ways. They may not buy in bulk like the rich and the affluent. They buy what they need for the day in vibanda.

The textbooks and popular media portray the west as the place where everyone is rich, and developed countries as places where misery reigns. The reality on the ground is different.

The vibanda in London also serve another group of consumers, immigrants who may find outdoor shopping homelier, unlike supermarkets.

Such residents might not have cars to drive to the supermarket like Asda or Marks and Spencer (M&S) which has lately diversified into foodstuffs.

I did not have time to compare prices in London vibanda vs supermarkets, but they are often cheaper, at least in Kenya because they keep costs low by cutting off the middlemen.

In Kawangware, even a wheelbarrow can be a mobile kibanda, doing away with costs like rent.

Food items make the bulk of what’s sold at the London vibanda. Not so surprising, we must eat and the price elasticity of demand for food is low.

The vibandas in London are clean and well organised. Why can’t we do the same?

The major difference between developed and developing countries is order. Let’s be real, developed countries have perfected their systems over the years.

We are yet to do the same, including controlling the population growth and taking care of nature.

Noted how we import water to Nairobi when there is a Nairobi River? Why not get water from there?

We can leapfrog, and catch up with the rest of the world; we have all the resources needed to become modern, except for believing in possibilities. Who can doubt that?