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Hawkers risk life and limb on busy highway to put bread on the table

A hawker at work in Keumbu along the Kisii-Keroka highway. Although several of his colleagues have been hit by speeding vehicles, this has not deterred the traders from going on with their business. [Photo: Denish Ochieng/standard]

Margaret Anyango has been doing business in Ndori Market, Siaya County for the past 20 years.

She is among scores of food hawkers who chase after to vehicles to sell their merchandise seemingly oblivious to the risk. Vehicles approach Ndori Market from three directions -Kogello, Kisumu and Bondo.

It is a dangerous place and there have been cases of people being hit by speeding vehicles. But according to the traders, business there is good.

Ms Anyango sees little danger in conducting her business on the major highway.

She says selling her goods to motorists and passengers enables her to reach more customers than she would if she operated from a closed market.

As motorists and pedestrians approach, aggressive hawkers scramble for customers, displaying their fruits and often forgetting to watch out for their own safety.

They mostly sell mangoes, guavas, sugarcane and groundnuts.

"Life is not easy. If I had another way of earning a living, I wouldn't risk my life on the highway for less than Sh500 a day," says 48-year-old Matilda Apondi.

She says about 200 people trade along the road, most of them women.

Like other traders, Apondi often rushes onto the highway in a bid to make a quick sale to passing motorists. It is a terrifying scene.

"It's a very risky business but what matters most is not where you are doing business but how much (money) you go back with at the end of the day," she says.

John Odongo, a driver plying the route between Usenge and Kisumu, says a good number of people have lost their lives in the scramble for customers.

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Although the Ndori Police Post is only 20 metres away, police officers seem unmoved by what is going on on the highway.

At Usenge, there is an open-air market where local traders hawk their goods on road reserves during market days, risking their lives in the process.

The risk of accidents due to speeding motorists on the busy highway remains real.

"We pay taxes to the county government and see no reason why we should continue to do trade by the roadside. The construction of our modern

market has taken too long," Usenge Market Traders Association Secretary Samson Okuku told The Standard.

Mr Okuku cannot forget an incident in which a speeding motorbike knocked down a ten-year-old girl who was crossing the road.

West Yimbo Ward Administrator Vinvent Mito says the county will complete the Sh5 million ultra-modern market soon.

As a way of reducing the number of accidents, locals have erected bumps on the highway.

"Maybe the Government is waiting for many people to die before it erects bumps here," said a trader, adding that children are most at risk.

He added: "We have women traders who have their children in the market and it is very risky especially when they are crossing the road with speeding motorbikes and vehicles."

Chaka Market

In Nyeri County, Chaka Market in Kieni is located on a road and railway reserve. Efforts to relocate them from the danger zone in the past failed.

Chaka Market Hawkers Association Secretary Joseph Mwangi said the vendors feel safe doing their business there.

"We have not had any road accidents here and so there is no reason to leave. Besides, we pay fees to the county government to conduct our business," Mr Mwangi said.

He said that the county government had put up streetlights and toilets for the vendors there and so there was no reason to relocate.

In Mombasa County, residential homes have been built very close to key road networks.

For example there has been heavy encroachment on the old Malindi Road that links Kengeleni to Bamburi, and on the road from Nyali bridge all the way to Mtwapa, where business premises have been built right on the edge of the road.

"We are putting our own lives in danger in the event a vehicle's brakes fails and it plunges into a building very close to the road,'' Ali Mwambire, a resident of Bombolulu in Nyali constituency said.

With anticipated road expansion works and the planned upgrade of the Mombasa–Malindi road into a dual carriageway, several structures and  buildings along the road have already been earmarked for demolition.

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