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By Mike Strathdee

As Printed in The Marketplace – March/April 2018

As many as 12,000 street vendors are causing major headaches for Nairobi politicians and businesses as they clog roadways, sidewalks, entrances to businesses and even churches. A profile in Kenya’s The Standard newspaper entitled “Hawking nation” refers to the swarms of mobile hawkers as a street menace. The peddlers show no regard for rules or others, the article states.

The problem is not new. Three years ago, government officials moved to push hawkers out of the business district. But many were not offered alternate spaces to conduct business, so they soon returned. Politicians promised in last year’s elections not to push out the traders. Observers note that the sheer number of hawkers has made them a political force. In mid-January, a violent clash between sellers and police left six people injured. Plans to build new markets to house vendors have stalled, leaving formal businesses and governments struggling to cope. Hawkers regularly wander all major routes into the city as well as the paths followed by matatus, privately owned minibuses that are a major source of transportation between communities. A city official cited plans to hire 1,000 officers to help control hawkers within the city. Most existing staff are too old to chase peddlers all day, he said. Defenders of the hawkers say they pay taxes and have a right to sell on the streets. Many cannot afford market stall fees of up to 20,000 Kenyan shillings (about $200 US dollars). ◆