Hustlers bargained for a toast, but are getting raw deal instead

President William Ruto talks to small-scale traders popularly known as 'Hustlers' after his arrival during the hustler fund launch at Green Park stage at Railways on November 30, 2022. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

Reclamation of public land alleged to have been acquired fraudulently continues. It began with the national government evicting people from places and houses they have known as their homes for decades, ostensibly to pave the way for affordable housing. County governments took cue, and many roadside traders - the hustlers - now find themselves without places to do their businesses.

Sadly, compensation is not on the cards. Worse, the lives of millions of citizens have been upended. And this, even though Kenya Kwanza and its principals promised Kenyans a toast in the classical ‘bottoms up’ fashion, and a ‘bottom-up’ leadership approach before the August 2022 general elections. 

The former is a slang phrase uttered by buddies before a celebratory drink, while the second refers to the action of progressing upward from the lowest level. During the 2022 campaigns, the Kenya Kwanza constellation inveigled itself into the psyches of many Kenyans and gave them a false sense of belonging; would-be buddies in governance. It is yet to happen and were Kenya Kwanza to be sincere, there should have been a clear nexus between ‘bottoms up’ and ‘bottom up’ by now. 

Hustlers and Kenya Kwanza are increasingly becoming strange bedfellows. Excessive taxation, a high cost of living, and now the shambolic fight against illicit brews that is hitting out at anything and everything but the source of the problem makes matters worse.

No doubt, the government is attempting to cover up blunders arising from its incompetence and avarice within the ranks of power, which give succor to all the vices summed up as corruption.

There is palpable anger among the people who have been pushed deeper into the recesses of joblessness by uncaring government functionaries. These people beat the odds against them and set out to earn a living through an honest day’s work, but now cannot.  

Adding to them a group of people likely to become worse wrecks from abrupt alcohol withdrawal symptoms and vindictive, unscrupulous traders to whom everything is seen in terms of profit, even when such proceeds ride on the back of mass deaths, will do more harm than good. The intent behind the war on killer brews is good, but the execution is reckless and impulsive. Soon, this perfunctory zeal will fizzle out. 

Where does that leave the hustlers who feel betrayed and thrown under the bus? People angry at the government but unable to fight back will seek other outlets to vent their frustrations. These could manifest in increased domestic violence, muggings by jobless youth seeking to acquire easy cash, robberies, and petty crimes like shoplifting, stealing chicken and prostitution.

Not everybody gives up just because they do not have the means to an end. Ways around hurdles can be found, but most people seek the easy way out. Hence, single mothers who earlier earned a living from hustling by hawking or selling vegetables in stalls on land the government has since appropriated, could be forced to live off men following endless harassment from kanjos

The possible rise in health risks and incidents of women trying to make ends meet through immorality are things we can do without. Men under siege can easily turn to crime to make ends meet. While justifying such is unacceptable, situations arise in life in which one is forced to use the nearest exit, and damn the consequences. 

Government policies and actions negate the fact that this country belongs to all of us. Obviously, the re-enactment of George Orwell's play, ‘Animal Farm’, in which some animals are more equal than others is evident in Kenya today, especially when government appointments and resource allocation amplify ‘shareholding' as a governance tool in rewarding loyalists and cronies.

The government should allow hustlers to live in dignity, away from misery and regret.