Large swathes of the Central Business District (CBD) of Kenya’s main urban centres are once again experiencing an unprecedented upsurge in the number of hawkers offering a wide range of merchandise. Besides renewed intensity and intrusiveness, there is nothing new about this state of affairs as tens of thousands of Kenyans are forced to turn to informal means to earn a living.
County, and local government authorities before them, have been confronted by how to stem invasion of CBDs by hawkers blamed for intrusion that disadvantages other licensed business operators while impacting adversely on security, contributing to disorder and filth accumulation.
Besides,hawkers often block sidewalks meant for human traffic, thus hindering mobility and accessibility. Any move to evict hawkers is rarely an amicable affair and frequently turns violent. The biggest challenge is that the factors which make hawking unavoidable are not easy to conclusively address.
The battle for survival, the urban to rural migration as people flee rural poverty to seek unemployment remain the drivers. Even if say Nairobi county were to construct a hundred additional strategically positioned markets, hawking will still not be contained and we will still have invasion of CBDs.
Some have suggested that the solution lies not in hounding hawkers but nurturing their entrepreneurial zeal more purposefully. Their argument being that these people often dismissed as a menace are in reality, breadwinners.
The aim, they contend, should be to decriminalise their activities and allow their businesses to incubate and grow. But to realise this lofty objective, hawkers must be ready to accept to operate within the law. Hawkers are their worst enemies. They are averse to any form of regulation.
Today as one of our lead stories illustrates, disorder reigns supreme along most of Nairobi’s pavements, including in front of formal outlets struggling to ensure their shops are accessible. Its anarchy. It is a trend that gets out of control every time the country is approaching elections.
The CBD cannot be turned into patches of uncontrolled bazaars. Nairobi metropolis as a regional diplomatic and financial hub has a status to safeguard. Local and county authorities and representatives of the informal traders periodically draw up operational rules which, unfortunately are subsequently flouted or deliberately undermined.
The free market mechanism the hawkers prefer cannot work in their line of business which is characterised by unrestricted mobility and a warped sense of entitlement.