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Why Sakaja is marked, in the throes of battle

Opinion
 Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Three days after Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja ordered hawkers out of the city’s Central Business District, much remains in question.

There are many emotions to process for thousands of dejected traders as they ponder likely effects of this key decision by the county leadership.

The matter of hawkers and public service vehicles (PSVs) accessing the CBD has been a searing and contested episode in efforts to reorganise Nairobi.

It did not start now. Even in the days of Evans Kidero and Mike Sonko, making the city secure, orderly, neat and modern was a hot potato. The former governors failed and left badly bruised.

You can take this to the bank. Filthy politics stand in the way of reforming Nairobi. Mr Sakaja himself tasted it last December when ‘Riggy G’ openly accused him of relocating PSVs from the CBD yet ‘it is these business people who voted for him.’

That time, the governor had met Sacco leaders to discuss a decongestion plan that required long-distance matatus to relocate to the Green Park Terminus. Mr Gachagua, as if inciting matatu operators, piteously claimed Sakaja did not consult widely.

How different will it be with the latest order to kick out hawkers? While Sakaja may mean his words, it is just the beginning of a scratch on the surface of the possibilities of a new-look Nairobi.

With politics at play, the governor is unquestionably between a rock and hard place. The triviality of machinations in Kenya Kwanza could kill great ideas. It has reached a moment where only the brave can go against the political grain to defend public good.

In the words of my favourite editor in my many years of journalism, you don’t wage a war you know you can’t win.

Kenyans will recall how good proposals in the Nairobi City County Pop-up Markets and Street Vendors blueprint fronted in 2020 by MCA Kabiro Mbugua got lost in the political din.

It had wanted vending zones designated in all counties. Another push to have hawkers occupy Muthurwa, Kirindini and Mwariro also hit the brick wall, all thanks to political rhetoric.

On this week’s order, Sakaja deserves support. My fear, however, is some of his bold plans may be dead in the field.

For one, during the 2022 polls, he got carried away by the ‘hustler’ mantra and promised to give hawkers a through pass to every corner.

Now as he kicks them out, he must craft a Plan B and get it right devoid of bullying by his county inspectorate.

For the record, the hawker menace requires urgent but apt fixes. We must fight unemployment as if there’s no tomorrow.

The tragedy of young men being blinded by the allure of town is an all-time worry. Let’s speak sense and not be disconnected from realities of hardship in cities.

The youth shouldn’t spend long periods seeking lowly urban white-collar jobs or dangerous street trading yet massive resources lie idle in rural areas.

Why have we failed to persuade the under 35’s, who make 78.3 per cent of Kenya’s population, to take up agricultural enterprises?

This is the missing link in addressing the urban muddle and unemployment.

Estimates say that Nairobi hosts close to 40,000 hawkers. It points to educational deprivation among the youth. Rights abuses, exposure to crime, physical and public health problems have been widely reported. Leaders must not overlook these perils to safeguard votes in 2027. The same way they love London, New York and Paris, they should help the governor improve the image of Nairobi.

Forget the degree saga, Sakaja will certainly face many roadblocks in making Nairobi work.

Come to think of it, he is a marked man in Kenya Kwanza’s rank and file. You don’t outperform your seniors and expect a pat on the back!

-The writer is a communications practitioner. X: @markoloo

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