Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko of Nairobi City County announced that soon, all the hawkers within the Nairobi Central Business District will be moved to the backstreets. The announcement came just a week after the governor overturned his earlier radical announcement of banning public service vehicles from accessing the CBD. The conflict between Nairobi City County and the hawkers has been on even before devolution came into being. There have been incidences of County Askaris, commonly known as kanjo, attacking hawkers with such brutal force that has left many maimed and dead.
Other business people in Nairobi have also been blaming hawkers of blocking entrances to their shops and, in the process, preventing customers from accessing them. Earlier this year, hawkers engaged in a battle with business owners in Eastleigh for days. The property was destroyed and people injured. However, Eastleigh is not within the CBD but this only shows that the problem is not only concentrated in the Central Business District. Many people have applauded the move by Governor Sonko but I think the plan is prone to fail even before it starts and here are the reasons why:
Most backstreets within Nairobi are insecure. The regions are poorly lit with no security lights and people are often mugged and robed. Most shoppers within the city prefer buying their things within the CBD as compared to the backstreets. The County Government of Nairobi should have first enhanced security in these areas. Security lights should be erected and security personnel should be on standby to protect both buyers and sellers. This will also ensure that buyers access these areas without fear of being mugged and the hawkers will be free to conduct their businesses.
Although Governor Mike Sonko has started the process of cleaning the city, most backstreets seem to have been forgotten. Most of them are dirty and smelly. There is little scattered in most places of Nairobi’s backstreets. Before moving hawkers to these areas, they first have to be cleaned. The County Government should assign people whose work will mainly be cleaning these backstreets. This will ensure that the hawkers transact their businesses in a clean environment and one that will attract customers to them.
Accessibility to Backstreets
Most backstreets within the city are inaccessible. The pavements are muddy during rainy seasons and they are sometimes overcrowded. The County Government should first make sure that these areas are easily accessible. Some of them are very narrow and cannot accommodate both hawkers and their customers. What mechanisms have been put in place to address this issue?
County Council Askaris
The running battles between the County Council Askaris and hawkers have been on for years. Although Governor Mike Sonko has said that the mistreatment of hawkers by County Government workers will be the thing of the past, what has been put in place to make sure that this is implemented? What assurance have hawkers been given of kanjo not following and mistreating them in the backstreets? There should be an amicable understanding between the hawkers and the kanjo. It seems the hawkers don’t understand what the kanjo are always after.
Is evicting hawkers from the CBD a solution to hawkers’ problem in Nairobi?
It is true that the menace of hawkers within Nairobi’s CBD is getting out of hand. It is almost impossible to take a walk with the CBD because hawkers have literary taken over all the available space. Traders who own supermarkets, large shops and kiosks have been left frustrated because hawkers often close the entrance to their shops and sell similar items as those found in the shops.
Evicting hawkers from the CBD is not a solution. This is just a short-term solution that cannot cater for the hawking problem within the city as well as for the informal sector as a whole. In the short-term, however, the County Government of Nairobi needs to reorganise all the people in the informal sector through the designation of specific areas. These areas should be well outlined and the timing set to avoid conflicts. Moving them in the backstreets is not all a bad idea but it should not be done in a hurry.
In the long term, the County Government should roll out the building of markets on the basis of public-private partnerships (PPP) model that will present an enabling the environment for hawkers to carry out their businesses. The markets can be away from the City Centre. Eastleigh, Ngara, and Pangani, for instance, still have more room for expansion but lacks proper planning.
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Featured image via www.the-star.co.ke.