Nairobi, once popularly known to as ‘The City in the Sun’, has earned a new moniker, ‘Hawkers’ Paradise’, with the invasion of unauthorised traders, slowly but surely overrunning the central business district (CBD).
Alleys, backstreets, walkways, streets, avenues, roads and even pavements — every available space has been overrun. Even fronts of other business premises have now become a free-for-all paradise for the hawkers who spread their wares with abandon.
The stretch of River Road, Moi Avenue, Tom Mboya Street, Haile Selassie Avenue, Kirinyaga road, Globe roundabout, River road, Racecourse road, Ronald Ngala and every available lane all become an untidy mess as early as noon with the vendors invading the CBD in droves.
They deal in all manner of wares, including, clothes, electrical appliances, spare parts, foodstuff, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, mobile phone accessories and toys, in the full glare often helpless city askaris.
In 1914, there were about 2,000 hawkers in Nairobi. Compare this with 1954 when the only street trading was permitted in the commercial and residential areas of Nairobi was selling of newspapers, and even this was restricted.
The Nairobi City Council Licensing Department estimates indicate that there were about 30,000 hawkers in Nairobi in 1984. This number is now estimated at 50,000 with the CBD reckoned to be hosting over 20,000 hawkers.
However, the mess, the complaints and inconvenience created by the hordes of hawkers might just come to an end with the introduction of a Bill that will see all traders in the city regulated and their operations streamlined.
Under the new law — Nairobi City County Trade Licensing Bill, 2018 — all hawkers will be required to have licences with no individual allowed to trade as a hawker or a street vendor except with the possession of a valid permit from the Directorate of Trade Licensing.
The licence will specify the kind of goods to be hawked, the areas within which the hawking shall be operated and the hours during which the goods may be hawked, among others conditions the licensing authority will deem fit to impose.
Hawkers outside the CBD will need to pay Sh500 per month. Those with motor vehicles in designated areas will pay Sh15,000 per year, those without vehicles Sh7,000, while vending at Uhuru Park will cost Sh5,000 per year.
A small informal sector trader or service provider, like a shoe shiner, shoe repairer, and a street vendor of newspapers, sodas, sweets or cigarettes, will part with Sh2,500 per year, Sh3,500 for a semi-permanent informal sector trader of more than two [items] in a veranda or in a temporary building, also for a year, while those in the informal sector will part with Sh2,000 per year.
Licensed traders with premises currently part with between Sh4,000 and Sh150,000 per annum depending on the number of employees, area the business occupies, and its location.
“No person shall act as a hawker unless he or she is in possession of a valid hawker’s license unless they operate business exempted from licensing. A hawker shall be required to produce his or her license (sic) on demand for inspection by the enforcement officer at all times.
“Those found operating without the license (sic) will be to liable a fine not exceeding Sh100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both,” reads in part the Bill sponsored by Kariobangi South MCA Robert Mbatia.
Hawkers say they are not opposed to the new law, but have reservations if it will successfully cure the menace in the capital city.
A hawker by the name Jonte says that the idea is good, but can only work if there is mutual trust between the hawkers and the county government.
He says that his 11 years in the hawking business have taught him never to trust any city askari.
He says that the markets can only work as holding grounds for the hawkers before they get to town, at hours that will be set aside by the county government, as most of their customers are those working in the city centre who they target as they leave their offices in the evening.
“It’s a good idea and we are ready for it. We’re open to paying the necessary fees, but taking us to markets won’t work. I think the law should only regulate the time we’re supposed to be in town,” he says.
Jaymo, another hawker, points out that the introduction of the licence might pose more problems than solutions. He worries that traders who are not hawkers may take advantage of the licences to flock the city to take advantage of the restoration of order.
He also observes that setting specific streets in certain days for hawking cannot work as hawkers are too many.
Jaymo says that they prefer the status quo to remain because currently, only the battle-hardened hawkers grace the streets, meaning relatively less competition.
“Even those now selling in Gikomba will want to come to town as they have been keeping off the street because of the constant running battles with ‘kanjos’.
“With the new order, what will stop them from applying for the licence to operate in the CBD?” he poses.
On the part of housed traders, the presence of hawkers in the city might not be cured instantly by the new law as it’s a complex issue.
Jackline Anyango, a trader running a clothes boutique along Sotik Lane in Nairobi’s River Road opines that the new law can only succeed if City Hall builds markets that can fully accommodate hawkers without which they might have no choice but to turn to crime to get by.
She said that hawkers, many learned and with incredible qualifications, are engaged in street vending because they do not have formal jobs.
“We don’t feel good when they sell the same wares as we do cheaply and in front of our premises, but we somehow understand their predicament. Once the markets are built, we will be happy to see them leave,” she says.
Another trader, John Wachira, running an electronic shop on Tom Mboya Street, observes that hawkers have brought stiff competition to them, which has seen several shops close down.
In an attempt to compete for the same customers, they end up underpricing their goods, but this makes the cost of running their businesses high because of overhead costs. Eventually they end up closing down.
He avers that many customers would rather wait for hawkers who sell their wares cheaply than buy from the shops. Most businesses now bank on the absence of hawkers to sell, with most adopting the exhibition stalls model to get by.
COUNTY BUSINESS PLAN
Mbatia explains that the Bill will ensure that there is a conducive environment for fair business practices in Nairobi County as it has given a provision for controlling and regulating businesses conducted in the county. This will result in the creation of a level playing field for all traders in the capital.
For instance, it has stated who is a hawker, the goods to be hawked, the area within which the hawker shall operate and the hours of operation.
The goods to be sold by hawkers should only be those that safeguard public safety and hygiene and are legal.
The Bill sets parameters of who is to be included to apply for a business trade licence, the process of application and in case one is not approved, how to appeal through a tribunal, which will be put in place to deal with such cases.
“The Trade License Bill provides a legal basis for the implementation of County Business Plan.
It promotes self-regulation and accountability because we will have a register of all traders in the county. It also gives roles and responsibilities of county officers,” says Mbatia.
Designated areas for operation by hawkers will also be set up. In the estates there are designated areas mostly around shopping centres and estate markets, but in the CBD, the county will have to sit and decide which streets the hawkers will be allowed into and from what time of the day.