How foreign beggars strike it rich in Kenya

They cross the borders from Tanzania in droves headed for Nairobi to exploit the generosity of Kenyans. Now they have started spreading their wings to other towns in Kenya, writes MICHAEL ORIEDO

Seated on a tattered mat along Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi, the elderly blind man incessantly shakes a rusty tin urging passers-by to put some money in it.

While some do, others cast piteous glances at him and hurry away.

And as this goes on, a young man hovers around him, intermittently picking money from the tin and stuffing it safely in his pockets.

Beggars in Nairobi and other towns rake in between Sh500 to Sh2,000 daily by feigning disability or sickness. But a closer look reveals some lead comfortable lifestyles in the slums. [PHOTOS: Mbugua Kibera/ Standard]

Occasionally, the man walks to the opposite street where a disabled woman sits on a rug and engages her in banter.

The two are among dozens of disabled men and women from Tanzania who have crossed over to earn a living through begging in Kenya.

better opportunities

So lucrative is the trade that many Tanzanians cross into Kenya every month in search for greener pastures.

CCI tracked the beggars to their dwellings in Korogocho slum, where majority of them live.

There, we met two disabled beggars, Semunde and Maziba, who had arrived into the country from Shinyanga, Tanzania a few days ago.

"Tulikuja kujitafutia riziki. Hapa maisha ni mazuri na watu wana roho ya kusaidia. (We came to Kenya to look for better opportunities. Here, life is good and people are good-hearted and benevolent)," Semunde explained.

The two say a fellow Tanzanian who has lived in Kenya for several years brought them into the country.

"We paid him Tsh10,000 (Sh500) each to bring us here. This did not include our fare," they say. Semunde, a father of two, says what inspired them to travel to Kenya is the success of fellow Tanzanians who are ‘working’ in the country.

"A village mate came here and went back home rich. He bought a piece of land, built a house and he has employed someone to run a posho mill for him as he ‘works’ in Kenya," he says.

The two also hope to strike it rich like their friends. Currently, they have started to learn the trade.

"We go to beg in Kariobangi and adjacent areas. We do not go to the city centre because we are not familiar with this place.

Soon, we shall start going there where people make good money," Fredrick says.

In a day, they make a minimum of Sh500. "This is good money compared to what we used to earn back home," says Semunde who was a village elder in Tanzania.

high value

"Kenyan money has a high value, so if you beg and get as little as Sh200, that’s a lot of money when you convert to Tanzanian currency," Fredrick adds.

Semunde and Maziba, who are village mates, say they travelled to Kenya from Tanzania through Sirare border point in Kisii.

"We passed through the border without any restriction. The officers did not question us about where we were going and what we were planning to do in Kenya," Maziba says.

CCI also met Juma, a Tanzanian from Temere, Dar-es-salaam. Juma lives in Kenya with his grandmother who begs on the streets of Nairobi.

His grandmother came into the country in 1987 and has not returned home since then.

"When she first came to Kenya, she lived in Nairobi, then moved to Majengo, Nyeri for a few months before returning to the city," he says.

Juma, who is married to a Kenyan, says his grandmother earns her living through begging.

Every morning, he takes her to the city centre at a spot near the Globe Cinema Roundabout and picks her at about 8pm.

modest families

"On a good day, she makes about Sh2,000. However, often she makes between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500. The money has been able to take care of our needs," he says.The 37-year-old says his grandmother has declined to return home because of the money she makes in Kenya.

"I have been forced to stay in Kenya because of her. I cannot leave her here alone since she cannot take care of herself," he says.

Ironically, although his grandmother engages in begging, Juma comes from a modestly well off family.

"My mother is a soldier in the Tanzanian army," he informs us. "There is a time she wanted to repatriate my grandmother but she refused to go back arguing she would be idle at home," he says.

Juma acknowledges that begging is a lucrative trade and many Tanzanians, especially the disabled, have been lured into the country to engage in it. Some, he says, with the help of Kenyans, have turned it into a business.

"They go to Tanzania, pick disabled people and bring them into the country after getting money from them. I have met some disabled people who have paid as much as Tsh30,000 (Sh1,670) to come to Kenya to beg," he says.

In addition to the trafficking, he attributes the influx of the beggars in Kenya to the way disabled people are treated back home.

"There is a time in 1990s the Tanzanian government started a programme to help disabled people. They were being given food and housing but the scheme collapsed. So many turned into begging to earn a living. But at home if you beg, you are seen as a misfit," he says.

Mr Robert Muema, Chief Children’s Officer at City Council of Nairobi says the council is alarmed with the influx of beggars on the streets.

"We have credible information they come from Tanzania and other neighbouring countries. They are so many and a nuisance to the public. We have received many complaints about them," he says.

However, Muema notes that the council is in a dilemma on how to handle the issue.

"In our laws, begging is not an offence. These people can only be charged with being a public nuisance. We have arrested them before and taken them to court but they are released," he says.

He says because the beggars are adults, the council cannot take them to rehabilitation homes.

"When we round them from the streets, we must find a place to take them. Normally, for children, we take them to our rehabilitation centres, but for adults this is not possible," he says.

flashy lifestyles

The begging problem is now spreading to other towns across the country.

"The beggars have become very crafty. They move from one town to another. They spend a week in Thika, the next in Nakuru and so on. This enables them to make more money," Muema says.However, he blames the public for encouraging the vice.

"People have realised that Kenyans are generous. This fame has spread beyond our borders, therefore, some unscrupulous people come into the country to beg. If we restraint from giving them money, they will not be on the streets," he says.

Muema says the city council is working with the police and the provincial administration to address the menace.

"It is a complex affair since the East African Community protocol allows free movement of people. We would also want to deal with them in a way that does not infringe on their rights and eradicates the menace in total," he says.

The Tanzanian High Commission did not comment on the issue even after CCI emailed questions to the High commissioner.

In Korogocho slums where some of the beggars live, residents regard them as rich.

They know they earn plenty of easy money from begging, therefore, they help them spend it.

Among those who do it are chang’aa brewers and prostitutes. In the evening, it is common to see the beggars in the company of women.

"These women will help to push their wheelchairs, prepare food and other activities so that they have a share of their money," says Naomi Wanjiru, a resident of Korogocho. Residents are also used to seeing the beggars drunk. "Some of them drink to the point that they lose their senses. You will find them lying on the road unable to trace their way back home," she says.

Recently, fire razed down shanties and some ‘rescuers’ made away with a lot of money stored in piggy banks.

"My grandmother lost Sh20,000 in coins during the incident," Juma says. "Two of our neighbours also lost similar amounts," he says.

Juma says they keep their money in piggy banks because they cannot open accounts in Kenyan banks.

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