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Video: Meet the city engineer campaigning on a mkokoteni

It is a chilly Thursday morning in Nairobi and Peter Njoroge, a middle-aged man is busy preparing his hand cart for the day's activities.

One by one, he picks various parts that he puts together to make one huge decorated handcart.

The handcart is equipped with a generator, 12 volts battery and a loud sound system: audio mixer, amplifier and 2500 watts speakers.

Once the assembly is complete, the handcart becomes a full political campaign vehicle with photos and messages that Njoroge says have cost him about Sh160,000 to assemble.

Peter Njoroge 'Jahazi' Nairobi Central (CBD) MCA aspirant campaigns from his handcart. [Pkemoi Ng'enoh]

 

The self-styled man who has been the chairmen of the mkokoteni association for seven years says this is his campaign podium that he moves from one place to another in his bid to clinch the Nairobi Central MCA seat.

The mkokoteni is branded with banners bearing photos of handcart pushers, boda-boda riders, hawkers and shoe shiners with carefully worded messages.

"Diversity and equity, gender, women and youth, people living with disability, fair distribution of resources and opportunities for all," one of the banners reads.

In an interview with The Standard, Njoroge said the wording of his messaging is deliberate to resonate with the common person, who is his target audience and potential voters.

Peter Njoroge 'Jahazi' Nairobi Central (CBD) MCA aspirant is vying on an independent ticket. [Pkemoi Ng'enoh]

The father of two attended Kebete technical and pursued a Diploma in Mechanical engineering at the Kenya Polytechnic in the mid-1980s,

Afterwards, Njoroge joined KTTC to train as a teacher and furthered his studies to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kenyatta University.

Unlike other aspirants who ride on big cars and run huge campaign caravans with huge speakers and rowdy singers, Njoroge who is running on an independent ticket only carts his mkokoteni across the city.

The special handcart has an extra wheel fixed behind it that rotates 360 degrees. Njoroge said this is the braking system of the handcart and comes in handy when turning.

“The extra wheel has powerful suspension meant to keep it stable in bumpy areas. It also has an automatic brake at the front,” he explained.

And from the speakers, the message booms out clear: "This is the voice of the common person. I identify with you because I am one of you. We must vote one of our own for us to sit at an equal table to discuss matters that affect us."

An engineer by profession, Njoroge is the coordinator of the Trolley and Hand Cart Pushers Association, a position he has held for many years after the company he used to work for closed down.

Peter Njoroge's handcart is a full political campaign vehicle with photos and messages that he says cost him about Sh160,000 to assemble. [Pkemoi Ng'enoh]

“In 2015, I was working as a plant engineer in a polythene company within the Industrial Area and the government started pushing for a ban on plastic use in a move that forced us to scale down and I was the victim,” he explains.

“I had risen to senior level, I had known some people who had some distribution shops in Kamukunji and other traders in the city centre. I knew that selling in bulk would require a delivery plan,” he said.

With the idea, Njoroge bought five trolleys and approached a popular trader on Duruma road and convinced him to lease the trolleys for regular deliveries.

“I had also known some people who had invested in trolley and mkokoteni business and when I came in, some were facing rough time in the hands of Nairobi City County askaris,” he explained

For this reason, a group of handcart and trolley pushers tasked him with managing their trolleys before he was elected the chairman.

And now Njoroge says the handcart is not only his symbol but if elected, he is planning to change the lives of cart pushers. He said this is at the top of his agenda.

Others are restoring fairness at the CBD, providing resources for youth groups, women and people living with disabilities and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.

“I am using the handcart because I am the real hustler. The sector was to be killed by former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero in 2015 but I wrote to him a memorandum inquiring how the markets and other shops will survive,” he explained

Njoroge says their plea was heard and the plans to do away with handcarts were shelved saving the lives of many youths, this catapulted him to fame within the city centre.

“The sector has employed over 3,500 youths that is why it is one of my flagship achievements since I took over. In fact, 70 per cent of young men in the of the boda-boda sector were handcart pushers,” he added

He says hundreds of trolley pushers are graduates and well-educated people in the society but many associate the job with failures. At the moment Nairobi has 2,608 trolleys and 371 carts.