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Digital loophole gives hawkers leeway to take over Nairobi streets

By Daniel Wesangula | July 17th 2016
A hawker parades his shoes near the General Post Office on xxx street in the city centre, PHOTO BY GEORGE NJUNGE

It has now emerged that the Nairobi County Government licensed hawkers to operate in prohibited areas, even as the city tries to restrict the traders to designated areas.

A loophole in the county government’s online payment system allowed the small-scale traders to get licensed to sell their wares in areas previously prohibited in the old licensing system.

As a result, areas such as Kenyatta Avenue, Mama Ngina Street and City Hall Way that were previously no-go zones for the hawkers have all registered an increased presence of the traders, to the dismay of shop owners.

Earlier in the week, Deputy Governor Jonathan Mueke said a committee of five people will be formed to not only deal with the hawking menace, but also end illegal dumping of garbage, matatu and boda boda traffic violations, illegal structures and car wash, street families, loud music and illegal roadside eateries.

But some of the hawkers who were given an ultimatum by the county government to stop selling their goods in non-designated areas went to court and obtained an injunction to stop their eviction, arguing they are legally licensed to trade.

“The defendant is hereby restrained by way of an interim injunction from interfering with the business of the plaintiff along Kimathi Street and Safi Lanes within Nairobi City County in so far as they are within the limits of their business permits issued pending the hearing and determination of this application,” reads the injunction issued at the Milimani Commercial Courts on May 20.

Previous attempts to regain the city’s glory have fallen flat due to competing interests at City Hall as well as from the national government.

Apart from the hawkers, matatu operators have obtained licences from the county government and taken over whole streets.

Ronald Ngala and Tom Mboya streets and parts of Moi Avenue have been converted into permanent pick-up and drop-off spots, greatly contributing to the gridlock dogging the CBD.

However, in a quick turn of events, the hawkers withdrew their case against Nairobi County after a High Court judge ordered that they be probed for allegedly forging court orders.

The 1,000 hawkers made an about-turn on their contempt case against senior officers of the county Inspectorate Department after Justice Issac Lenaola ordered on Friday that they be probed by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

Lawyer Muriuki Ngunjiri, for the hawkers, filed a notice to discontinue the contempt proceedings against the county, William Kangongo, Stephen Njogu, Patrick Misigo, Charles Akoko, Jairus Basweti, Lochenia Ighot and Akass Aban.

Before proceeding with the contempt case, Lenaola had been asked by county lawyer Titus Koceyo to have the hawkers investigated for forging court orders, which they allegedly used to remain in the streets without paying levies.

In March, another attempt by the council fell flat as matatu operators called for a strike after county officials enforced Governor Evans Kidero’s directive to bar them from some Nairobi roads.

Transport executive Mohamed Abdullahi on Tuesday said only 17,000 PSVs are licensed to drop and pick passengers in the CBD.

“Almost 70 per cent of vehicles operating in the CBD pick and drop passengers at ungazetted areas,” Abdullahi said.

Although the county says it has deployed an additional 700 people to help deal with the hawkers, rogue matatus and illegal dumping, all of which are chocking Nairobi, City Hall insiders are pessimistic about the levels of effectiveness that this work force will have.

According to them, the current court injunctions and the looming general election provide the perfect opportunity for chaos to thrive in the city.

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