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Growing pain for businesses as hawkers take over Nairobi streets

Nairobians on Friday morning woke up to anonymous leaflets calling for a march to City Hall over hawkers’ invasion of key streets within the Central Business District (CBD) .

One of the flyers partly stated: “We the citizens of Nairobi will demonstrate on July 12 to demand answers from City Hall.”

The content of the leaflets may not have meant much to many Nairobians, but to traders within the CBD, the matters raised are weighty and they have vowed to unite against the menace that is killing their businesses.

SHOP FRONTS OCCUPIED

A spot check in the CBD reveals mayhem. Most shop fronts on key roads such as Tom Mboya, Moi Avenue, Aga Khan Walk and Ronald Ngala have been occupied by hawkers who spread their wares on the pavements, cutting off access to shops and stalls.

This has been happening for more than a month now, with the hawkers routinely descending on the streets by mid-morning and staying on until late evening to sell a variety of personal and household goods.

What began as hawking of small items such as head and neck scarves and hand gloves has morphed into a full-fledged illegal market where one can find anything from cooking pans, vegetables and fruits, massage balms, cosmetics, mobile phone accessories, clothes, shoes and toys.

Most of the toys, cosmetics, shoes and clothes are counterfeits of the main brands sold in retail shops around the city, raising concern over loss of tax revenue and health risk to users.

Traders in the city centre say they have had enough and are demanding quick intervention from City Hall.

County askaris force out  the driver of a public service vehicle for flouting traffic rules. Matatus occupy nearly half of the streets in the CBD and routinely block other vehicles , creating unending traffic jams. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA
County askaris force out the driver of a public service vehicle for flouting traffic rules. Matatus occupy nearly half of the streets in the CBD and routinely block other vehicles , creating unending traffic jams. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA

‘ILLEGAL MARKET’

“It all starts with one hawker coming and setting up a makeshift sales point outside your building and if you do nothing others soon join in to form a full illegal open air market right there,” a shop owner, Vincent Wakhaya, told Business Daily.

“You then realise they have products similar to yours but sell at a third of the price or less. One had shirts similar to what I sell at Sh1, 500 but his were going for Sh500. They have no overheads and can afford to sell at low prices which I can’t.”

The hawkers now boldly sell their wares on the streets despite the presence of county inspectorate officers who used to arrest them for illegally operating in the CBD.

Sources claim some corrupt county officials allow the hawkers to operate within the CBD for a weekly bribe of Sh200.

Wambui Mbarire, the chief executive of Retail Trade Association of Kenya (Retrak), however said City Hall had given her an assurance that it would deal with the menace but was unsure when the vendors would leave.

“It is unacceptable that hawkers now seem to be permanent, they set up in the morning and close at night, it grossly interferes with the businesses of rent-paying and licensed retailers who have huge overheads,” she said.

Shop owners say they have many bills to pay, including the county’s single business permits and cannot compete with the hawkers on pricing of goods as the street vendors have no overheads.

Hawkers display their wares. Nairobi has few planned sites for vending.
Hawkers display their wares. Nairobi has few planned sites for vending.

KILLING BUSINESS

A shop fronting the street on Moi Avenue, for example, costs Sh500,000 every year to lease. The tenant also has to pay water and power bills, Sh5,000 for the permit and service charge, among other expenses.

“They don’t pay all these so they can afford to sell at a quarter of our prices. We can’t allow them to operate here and kill our businesses,” said an exasperated Imam Mohamed

Governor Evans Kidero on Saturday said that six inspectorate officers had been suspended for collecting bribes to allow hawkers to operate in the city, adding that more officers are being investigated.

“Serious allegations have been raised in regards to the negligence and possible impropriety from certain members of the Inspectorate team who continue to solicit for bribes to abet the current lawlessness, disorder, wanton garbage, illegal use of parking bays by matatus, continued presence of boda boda riders and hawkers in the CBD,” Mr Kidero said.

“This has caused insecurity and disorder in the city. More county staff members are under investigation and severe action will be taken if found culpable.”

Two weeks ago, business operators in a building on Moi Avenue roughed up a street vendor who had attempted to sell his wares on the pavement outside their shops. They are ready to take the law into their own hands to save their businesses.

VIOLENT EVICTIONS

The hawking menace is not new in Nairobi. City Hall has over the years been involved in bouts of violent evictions since 2005 when it was decided that the vendors should move out of the city centre.

Last year, the hawkers flooded back, claiming they had genuine licences and even moved to court to defend their right to trade in the city. But City Hall said the permits were issued “fraudulently” on its online system and later cancelled them.

The failure by the county government to keep the pavements clear is a continuation of a slow collapse in order that has seen many corporates opt out of the city centre to less chaotic commercial areas.

Last year’s order that motorcycle taxis should vacate the city centre was ignored by the bodaboda operators who are notorious for floting traffic rules. They often run red lights and ride on the wrong side of the road, among other acts of impunity.

‘CBD COLONISED’

Matatus have also “colonised” nearly half of the streets in the CBD and routinely block other vehicles , creating unending traffic jams.

Other indicators of the erosion of order in Nairobi is constant littering and uncollected garbage especially in the back-streets and alleys. The deterioration has seen many corporates opt out with only a few of the leading companies still having their headquarters in the city centre.

Barclays Bank, Standard Group, Diamond Trust Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, the Nairobi Securities Exchange and Old Mutual are some of the corporates that have quit the CBD for the relative tranquility of Upper Hill, Waiyaki Way or Mombasa Road.

KCB, Kenya’s biggest bank by assets is also set to move its headquarters from the iconic Kencom building to the 21-floor KCB Plaza in Upper Hill.

SOURCE: Business Daily