A storm is brewing between the custodians of Tom Mboya square and monument, and a group of hawkers who have taken over the space around the national monument to sell their wares.
This comes after the hawkers invaded the area along Moi Avenue, where the statue has been since 2011, with big tents strategically placed at the front of the monument blocking its front view which has been a magnet for Kenyans who frequent the place to take pictures with the statue of the late politician.
Speaking to the Nation on Sunday, the head of Tom Mboya square and monument Mr Charles Okumu said that the hawkers have been in the space since last week Friday and their presence has curtailed the operation of the statue with would-be visitors confused with the current state of affairs.
“They have blocked the pedestrians walkway and people are now unable to see the front view of the statue. I’m the person who teaches both the international and local visitors and pupils about the monument. Now that is near impossible,” said Mr Okumu.
He claimed that the small scale traders told him that they were going to occupy the space for the rest of the festivity season.
He says all his efforts, as the caretaker of the monument, to implore the hawkers who sell shoes, clothes and other household items, not to block the statue’s front view have fallen on deaf ears with some of the hawkers claiming they have the blessing of Nairobi’s county government.
“I have tried to plead with them since Friday but they have told me that it is their time to eat and I should not interfere with them as they have paid money to somebody and that it is their money working now. They have also told me that they are here to stay,” he said.
Mr Okumu also said that small-scale hawkers like mama mbogas have been driven away from the space and replaced by a certain cartel of hawkers.
Mr Okumu said among the affected are photographers who make a living by taking pictures of people next to the monument.
Geoffrey Obara and Benson Mwanza, who are among the more than 30 photographers who operate next to the monument lamented the hawkers’ presence saying that they have denied them income.
“Our business has suffered since Friday when the hawkers invaded this place. We used to make about Sh3, 000 everyday during the festive season. Now we can’t make even Sh500 as our customers think that this place has become a market,” they said.
But the hawkers have defended themselves saying they rented the space from a lady, only identified as Zippy, who they claim told them that she has approval from the City Inspectorate Department.
“We do not know anything about how the space was acquired. We just rented the space from the lady. She also has a tent here,” said a hawker who requested anonymity.
Attempts by Nation to talk to interview the said lady proved futile as she kept saying she was on her way but never showed up.
The new chief enforcement officer at the county Mr Tito Kilonzi has however denied any knowledge of such a deal and promised to take action.
“The claim is not true. We have not seen such an agreement and even if there was such an agreement it would not be in that area. But I have sent my officers down there to deal with the situation,” Mr Kilonzi said.
The Tom Mboya statue was unveiled in 2011 by former President Mwai Kibaki and then Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The monument has significant features such as flamingos which signify the airlift programme started by the late Mboya while the rock, upon which the statue stands, represents the slain politician’s ancestral home, Rusinga Island. The water surrounding the rock represents Lake Victoria, a fresh water lake where Rusinga Island stands on.
Other significant features are the Coat of Arms, while the statue’s raised hand represents Mr Mboya’s fight for workers welfare and the labour movement.
“Every element of the monument has a meaning. Those finer details are now under obstruction from the visitors. At the Kenya National Archives, there is a photo exhibition of the life and times of Mboya before he was assassinated and some of the information have been captured by the monument,” Mr Okumu said.