The enduring symbol of hustling across Africa

A duka in South Africa, near Lesotho. [XN Iraki]

The photo was taken in South Africa, but everyone thinks it was somewhere in Kenya. The building is common in rural Kenya, the best symbol of hustling, long before hustling got into the political lexicon.

Such a building hosts hotels, butcheries, shops, kinyozis, tailors, agrovets, bars, posho mills, and a more recent addition, pharmacies.

The backside of the building was used for accommodation, usually single rooms and a toilet at the far back.

It is a symbol of rural affluence and inspired us when growing up. “I want to be a shopkeeper when I grow up” was common in class discussions.

We longed to own such a building, simply called a duka, a term that has Indian origin - just like thug and chapati.  

How come no Chinese word has been integrated into our language? Is that a sign of limited Chinese cultural influence? Why is Hindi (Indo-Aryan language) not taught in Kenyan schools?

It would be easier to watch highly successful Hindi movies like Kum Kum Bhangya which has local voiceovers. 

Elegant designs

Who came up with enduring duka design? I noted once you get into Rwanda, the design changes but not significantly. The canopy is part of the building.

Most rural areas are defined by such buildings. It’s only recently that a few elegant designs have come up, driven by modernism which has spread to rural areas.

We see modernity on TV and other media. Is that how we got Nigerian gates into Kenya? 

Even residential buildings have evolved in rural areas, round huts are hard to get except far into the interior where traditional cultures are still intact.

Some huge houses now rival the settler’s colonial houses in rural areas. What we can’t debate is that the duka building is not going away soon, it will remain a symbol of rural areas and hustling. Some could add rural stagnation and neglect.

One reason the duka could persist is that the rural areas remain conservative and lack “foreign direct investment.”  Except for the Nairobians who invest there, driven by their rural roots, not much is invested there. Rural areas are also home to old tired cars.

Trickledown economics has always defined rural areas. But very little trickle.

That’s why the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation (BETA) was so alluring, with rural areas at the bottom.

Will BETA transform dukas? Let’s wait and see. Own a duka? Tell us about it.