Is Mike Sonko justified in his dealings with hawkers?

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He is a populist and now the Nairobi County Governor, Kenya’s Capital City and also East Africa’s economic hub despite stiff competition from Addis Ababa. His roadside declarations, though popular are now coming back to bite, nothing drives this home like his dalliance with hawkers in the Central Business District (CBD).

In a communication from City Hall, Nairobi hawkers are henceforth allowed to occupy restricted streets of the CBD not beyond Tom Mboya Street as from 1400Hrs, they should not operate along the main roads or on both sides of any given street but in typical Kenyan fashion, this order is being abused as they are encroaching into almost all streets in the city centre. Outside Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) along Kimathi Street, there are women selling fruits and vegetables, Haile Selassie Avenue around the railway station, the road is a hawkers’ paradise and major streets like Moi Avenue, Luthuli Avenue are all occupied by the hawkers with some operating as early as 0800Hrs and with their infant children in tow so as to seek mercy from county askaris.

To try and save face, Governor Sonko through his office say they will use voter’s cards to issue licenses to the hawkers to operate in the CBD. A move that has been condemned from many quarters and viewed as a political carrot from him to a specific political group for votes in coming elections. Hawkers who have operated in the city complain that they might be victimized on the basis of their tribe and perceived political alliances. Through their chairman, Mr Kimani Waweru, the hawkers are adamant that they will continue occupying the CBD until the county government engages them on alternative areas to operate from but that they are not ready to leave the CBD.

Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi

What’s the value of owning a stall if you can hawk?

Along Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya streets, there are various 2msq stalls. To get a prime one that faces the road especially along Moi Avenue, you part with a goodwill ranging from Sh1 million to Sh500, 000 besides a deposit equivalent to 2 months rent, not forgetting the first month’s rent. Most of the stalls go for Sh30, 000 per month. So, to acquire a stall on the lower end, you part with Sh500, 000 goodwill plus 90,000 of goodwill and rent, coming to a total of Sh590, 000. This is before you purchase stock for what you intend to sell or even make renovations to the stall to suit your needs and the business licenses needed to operate.

This is in stark contrast to a hawker who needs as little as Sh3, 000 say for a variety of second hand ware including women’s trench coats, shoes to trousers and jumpers. The hawker subsequently parts with an annual Sh2 000 to the county government in license fees and that’s all needed to start business, no overheads.

Pricing

While the hawker parades their wares right outside the stall owner and sells a trench coat for Sh200, the stall owner whose clients have been obstructed by the hawker has to sell the same trench coat for Sh1, 000 to cover the overheads. The stall owner in his pricing must factor in the rent, electricity and other costs of the stall so that they can remain in business. Mobile phone operators are not left behind; a number of hawkers are now selling mobile phones and accessories too. The competition for clients has become stiff and more and more stall owners are finding it impossible to pay for the stalls they occupy as can be witnessed in their delayed payments of rent.

While his predecessor, Governor Evans Kidero’s administration was blamed and allegedly linked to the killing of hawkers using the county askaris, the hawker menace was not as bad as it is today, mere a month or two into new administration’s tour of duty. This is a nightmare. It will be interesting to see how the governor will maneuver his way out of it considering he has to keep his voting base that include both the hawkers, the business community and the general public heavily affected by the hawking menace.