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Tracking the nightlife of donkeys and their riders in Kayole

By By JOHN LAWRENCE | July 5th 2013


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Every night between 11pm and 1am, a spectacle that some would consider incongruous with city life plays out in Eastlands. As most city residents retire after a long day’s work, a fleet of donkey-driven carts — complete with riders — trudges through the night passing through Donholm, Outering and Manyanja roads.

Like the famous desert camel trains, the long line of the beast of burden are something straight from rural Kenya. The donkeys huff and puff, riding beside hooting vehicles and puzzled pedestrians. Under the command of riders, they trudge through the tarmac. 

The Nairobian was recently on the trail of the city’s night shift donkeys to solve a mystery that has baffled many residents.

“I normally see the donkeys pass here daily at 11 o’clock collecting spoilt fruit, vegetable cuttings and other leftovers,” says Hansen Mutua, who works in a hotel in Kware, Outer Ring Road.

Indeed, we found out, the sacks in the carts are filled with leftovers. The destination of the carts, after filling the sacks with leftovers, is often Kayole Estate. 

Samuel Ndung’u, a donkey rider, says his job is to collect the food remains and deliver to a dairy farmer in Kayole. He has no protective clothing and his shirt seems like insufficient protection against the July ‘winter’. Samuel is a mason by day and a scavenger by night. 

“We do this every day — whether it is raining or not, work must go on,” he says.

Asked why he does not wear gloves, he responds with a wry smile: “My hands have hardened enough because of this work.”

Samuel is in the employ of a dairy farmer, who also commands the services of 10 donkeys.

Samuel says he and his colleagues don’t pay the ‘owners’ of the waste because they help in managing the rubbish by collecting it as fodder for cows.

Our investigations indicate that the city’s night shift donkeys are controlled by a cartel of businessmen. They bribe the police and City Hall officials to keep their ‘trains’ moving every night.  

Maina wa Njeri, who works for a different proprietor, says he is paid an average of Sh500 for the job. But he says the working conditions are harsh.

Maina says that at times they are harassed by police officers in the middle of the night and are forced to part with bribes. And with no reflector jackets and no lighting, the riders and the animals are a real danger—to themselves and to other road users.

“There are motor vehicle drivers who knock the carts and just drive off, leaving you to take care of the injured donkey. If it’s a bad accident and the donkey dies from its injuries then it means I automatically lose my job,” says Maina.

Duncan Ochieng’ Onduu Country Manager of The Donkey Sanctuary Kenya, says that the number of animal to vehicle accidents could easily be reduced if there were clear plans to accommodate all road users not motorists alone.

“In the design of roads, the county government should put in place designated roads for the non-motorised forms of transport to help reduce fatalities,” Onduu told The Nairobian.

Onduu adds that there should be reflectors on the donkey carts as they too are a non-motorised form of transport and the owners should comply to give visibility.

Onduu explains that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act Cap 360 considers a number of activities as offences against animals.

“As animal welfare organisations, the rules are very lenient and thus we have pushed for the formation of a Government-led task force to review the laws that touch on the well being of animals,” he says.

The keeping of animals and the drawing of such carts in the city, especially at night, is also on the margins of some bylaws.

As for Nairobians like Samwel and their ‘night donkey trains’, the ride is on.

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