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Why kiosks could be with us forever despite modernity

 Wares on sale in a shop at Soko Mjinga, Kaptembwo, Nakuru. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

It’s fascinating how English appropriated some words from other languages. The word kiosk has a Turkish origin. Duka, chapati and surprisingly thug have Indian origin.

Are unbwogable and Wanjiku now English words? In villages and hamlets, and big cities too, kiosks are the outlets through which the vast majority of people get their basic supplies from sugar, soap, salt, and bread among others.

Most ordinary citizens only cater for basic needs, luxury is just that. It’s this ordinariness that keeps kiosks going. Lots of people do not need the large supermarkets or departmental stores as they are called in North America. 

Kiosks exist because of convenience and low barriers to entry. They are within reach of most homesteads. They are easy to construct using locally available materials. As floods demonstrated, they are easy to move if need be. 

Their flexibility is another source of strength.

They can change their offering depending on the weather, seasons or even the political cycles. It could also depend on the owner; his or her availability or working capital.

They are flexible in dealing with customers whom they know personally. How many cashiers know you in the supermarket? Let’s go beyond the physical kiosk.

Global economy

What does it represent? Some think it‘s economic stagnation. Big outlets like supermarkets indicate modernity and integration into the global economy.

The more kiosks the lower the level of economic growth, it’s argued. Is the decrease in the number of kiosks a better measure of economic growth than growth in gross domestic product (GDP)?

In developed countries, such kiosks are few and located in petrol stations or rest areas, where you stop on long trips for a meal or rest. And nowadays to charge your car. They represent convenience not a low level of economic growth. Some are even automated with no human attendant- like ATMs. 

In Kenya and Africa, kiosks represent either economic stagnation or potential. Many kiosk owners got there out of necessity. Out of the many kiosks, some eventually become big supermarkets or other big businesses. Kiosks are economic labs, let’s celebrate them. 

Others argue kiosks capture and perpetuate the “smallness” mentality. That being small is glorious. Some equate kiosks to bodabodas.

How many owners eventually own matatus or trucks? Kiosks should be economic seedbeds, transplanted to grow into big firms both at home and abroad. Do we facilitate that? Ever owned a kiosk, or own one? Talk to us!

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