The writer, Walter Menya (right), with influencer Stephen Musyoka outside the Maputo handicrafts market. PHOTO | COURTESYThe writer, Walter Menya (right), with influencer Stephen Musyoka outside the Maputo handicrafts market. PHOTO | COURTESY
By WALTER MENYA in Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo? Not very familiar with many Kenyan travellers who mostly prefer going to neighbouring South Africa for business or tourism.

But tucked away on the Indian Ocean coast is the capital of Mozambique which has an important lesson or two on how to deal with hawkers and street beggars are often a nuisance to Nairobians.

Seated along Nairobi walkways and in front of shops and restaurants, the street beggars of Nairobi not only irritate residents but have also been used by unscrupulous individuals to peddle drugs and engage in other criminalities. Many of them are also drug addicts who sniff glue, smoke bhang (marijuana) and inject other hard drugs.

IMAGE CHANGING APPROACH

Courtesy of Google, a group of journalists and influencers from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa were recently in Maputo for a four-day visit when they learnt of Maputo’s image changing approach to street beggars.

In September 2016, the City Council of Maputo adopted a new approach to deal with street beggars which has left the city centre free of their annoyance to the residents.

The new approach set days when beggars are allowed to come out to the designated areas of the city – only on Thursdays and Fridays – and also what well-wishers can give and how to give.

On all other days of the week, residents of Maputo go about their business without interruption by the street families and beggars.

Besides designating places for beggars and days, members of the public who feel charitable risk being fined up to 2,000 Mozambican meticals (Sh3,400) if they are caught giving money or alms of other forms directly to the beggars. Mozambican metical is the southern African nation’s currency.

Instead, the City Council of Maputo has centres which address the needs of the begging population and where well-wishers are required to take their alms.

It is these centres that then distributed the items to street people and beggars.

ENCOURAGES BEGGING

Maputo City Council argues that giving alms is a violation because it encourages begging.

City Council’s strict by-laws on begging extends to Maputo’s public highways where motorists and pedestrians also risk being fined if found giving out alms to beggars. Not only does Maputo’s approach to dealing with street beggars make the city feel safe but also inviting to visitors.

It is a lesson Nairobi could perhaps borrow from Maputo to rid the central business district of beggars and street families.

Efforts by authorities in Nairobi to deal with street families and beggars menace has always fizzled out when elections are close given that they come in handy to deal with political rivals. They have also been abused by organisers of demonstrations in the city.

Guardians also abuse the younger ones and the disabled who as early as 4am are dumped on busy sidewalks to beg. The guardians then take the day’s collection leaving the beggars with nothing and making it a form of slavery.

A study commissioned by the Consortium of Street Children (CSC) had in 2007 estimated that there were 250,000 – 300,000 children living and working on the streets across Kenya with, with more than 60,000 of them in Nairobi.

The Narc government in 2003, as part of promises it made to the people of Kenya before the 2002 General Elections, introduced a street children rehabilitation programme led by the National Youth Service to guide and provide the street children with skills to make them self-reliant.