Will the Protection of Livelihood Bill settle the hawkers’ menace?

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BY CAVIN ODHIAMBO

Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria is rooting for a new Bill, which, if enacted, will legalise hawking and street vending.

The 2018 Hawkers and Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihoods) Bill is aimed at providing a legal framework for recognition, protection and regulation of hawkers and street vendors in all counties as primary pillars of economic and social development by putting in place an identification mechanism and minimum standards of operation. 

The Hawker menace is not a new thing. It traces its roots back to World War II and Kenya’s State of Emergency. In her 2007 essay published in volume 11 of Crime, History and Society, Claire Robertson states that the population in Nairobi increased from 41,000 to 70,000 in two years to 1941, despite widespread use of kipande, passports, passes and permits to control the influx of opportunists besides curbing Africans from ganging up against the British.

The most affected by the influx were shopkeepers, a majority of them male, as “gendered class formation was a conscious aim of British administration.”

Robertson adds that, “While the Nairobi Municipal Council was never wanted to prohibit hawking, it adopted the policy of gradually widening the number of commodities that required licences to sell.”

Unfortunately, the whole process that would culminate into reducing the number of  hawkers from 500 to 300 did not provide a solution  and “neither the underground economy nor the militancy of hawkers disappeared at the end of World War II, when the internal socio-economic crisis became more real – and acute, resulting in part in an escalated hawker war,” while lack of access to banking services and permanent trading places only worsened the situation which was accentuated when women were banned from hawking.

Intensified protests from porridge peddlers, however, gave hawkers green light when the ban was finally lifted and women, mostly from Kiambu and Thika, gradually flocked the city, making women cogs in the hawking wheel.

From the era of pre-colonial era to date, hawkers have stayed amidst harassment from successive governments who have failed to come up with a concrete solution to the hawking menace. Instead, hawking has been treated as a criminal activity, going by the successive governments’ attempt at dealing with the menace.

In 2014 Nairobi businessman James Wanjohi filed a case at the High Court seeking the Nairobi County government to allocate a specific place within the Central Business District  (CBD) for hawkers. Mr Wanjohi, in his submission wanted  the City County to allow traders carry out their activities in the CBD freely without harassment and extortion from county askaris and added that the move was bound to open more opportunities for young entrepreneurs and create jobs that would help beat the ever soaring unemployment rate in the country. 

He said that many hawkers had lost their lives in the hands of City Council officers through murder and serious physical harassment and feared the situation would escalate and many deaths reported if drastic measure were not put in place.

“Every year the county askaris are becoming brutal against us yet we are patriotic Kenyans trying to make a living by selling items at the convenience of our customers,” he said. 

Despite coming to the defense of the hawkers, the then City Governor Dr Evans Kidero blamed the whole menace on lack of proper planning and also warned city askaris against using excessive force against the vendors while enforcing city bylaws. Mr Wanjohi’s plea however did not see the light of the day. 

In November 2016, commercial court ordered all the hawkers operating from the city centre to move to designated places within the city. In the ruling, the court said the  “traders cause immense suffering” to other street users and thus should move out.

“As correctly pointed out by lawyer Titus Koceyo for the Nairobi City County, all other users of city streets suffer undue hardship, inconvenience and are subjected to chaotic environments due to hawkers spreading their goods without order,” Chief Magistrate Peter Muholi ruled.

Mr Muholi at the same time dismissed two cases filed by the hawkers, through lawyers Elizabeth Muthoni Karanja and Sheila Mugo, seeking to restrain county askaris from harassing, arresting or interfering with their operations at Plot Zero on Moi Avenue and also on Tom Mboya Street stating that county government officers are mandated to ensure “there is good environment of doing business, hence tasked with ensuring there is order; licence all business and generally be in charge of their counties.”

Defending his Bill, Governor Wa Iria says it is improper to continue harassing the over 8 million people who contribute close to 90% of all contributions of all traders in the country. He instead wants them to be mainstreamed into the national business organisations, such as the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, owing to their contribution to the economy.The Bill also proposes the establishment of the Hawkers and Street Vendors Authority to facilitate the registration, regulation and monitoring of trade.