Nairobi's Eastleigh was once a marvel. The predominantly Somali suburb is among Kenya's biggest trading centres with over 50 shopping malls.
At some point, the conurbation, known as Little Mogadishu, in reference to the Somali capital due to its large ethnic Somali population, was a great attraction that saw major businesses, including hotels, set up in the area. However, this was before hawkers landed.
Eastleigh is now a pale shadow of its former self. In fact, it is now a major eyesore as streets have literally been turned into dumpsites. This has been blamed on hawkers who have been accused of littering the streets without a second thought.
Shop owners are also complaining that hawkers are killing their businesses by blocking the entrance to their shops. In addition, they say the hawkers are undercutting them because they do not pay taxes.
There is no longer anywhere for pedestrians to walk as the hawkers have spread their wares on all the pavements. In some of the worst case, hawkers spread their goods on the roads, endangering theirs and their customers' lives.
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Fed up with this state of affairs, shop owners went on strike seeking the relocation of hawkers who they also blamed for increased littering along the streets. The protest saw police clear over 20,000 stalls some of the hawkers used, which in turn led to a major confrontation.
Efforts by hoteliers to plant flowers in front of their facilities to attract customers have gone to waste. Some said they had also hoped the flowers would ward off the hawkers. However, the situation is even worse as hawkers have turned the same flower beds into dumpsites.
A spot check by The Standard yesterday revealed filthy streets. Garbage was all over the place, even in the middle of the road. But some of the hawkers who talked to The Standard to dismissed claims that they were entirely to blame for the filth.
"Hawkers are not entirely to blame. A lot of the waste comes from residential areas. There are people who dump waste at night and this is blamed on us," said Betty Kimoli, who sells vegetables near Califonia estate.
She said county workers collected the waste but there were times when garbage was dumped after the workers had left. She also said hawkers were not aware if they were expected to pay for waste collection as the shop owners claimed.
The famous 'Garage' matatu roundabout is completely impassable, especially in the evening, as hawkers cook and sell food in front of three hotels.
On the opposite side of the road, a man is frying fish and behind him is a heap of garbage. The hawker is competing with matatus for space on the road. At some point, a passenger misses the boiling oil in the pan by inches as she alights from a matatu.
But even after the demolitions, some hawkers are still operating on roads leading to Biafra and Jogoo Road around Califonia.
"We hope the county government bulldozers will not come down here. We are not causing any problems here. Some of us only show up in the evening after shop owners have closed for the day," said Martin Mutisya who sells second-hand clothes.
Some hawkers said they were happy when the malls closed during the protests as they were able to achieve higher sales.
Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero has vowed to rid the streets of hawkers following last week's three-day protests that began on Wednesday.
"We are 100 per cent committed to restoring law and order in this great city," Kidero said on Saturday.
On Thursday, the hawkers were repulsed by county askaris as they attempted to march to City Hall to protest.
Eastleigh Hawkers Association chairman Jeff Oteba claimed they moved to the streets after their land was grabbed. He also denied reports that hawkers had blocked shop entrances.
Eastleigh Business District Association chairman Ibrahim Hussein said out of the about 20,000 hawkers, only 200 were from the area.
"We have no problem with hawkers. All we want is for them to be relocated," he said, adding, "These people do not pay any levies. No electricity, no tax, which makes their goods quite cheap yet they sell exactly what shop traders is selling. We are losing business."