, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 18 – For three years Mbugua (not his real name) doubled as a street hawker in Nairobi and a student of the University of Nairobi in a bid to boost his pocket money and assist his parents in paying fees.
His operating location was in Ngara, Nairobi where he had joined thousands of other hawkers to earn a living.
With starting capital of Sh3,000 Mbugua was good to go.
“It is good business since you do not have any rent to pay other than small fees to the County Government,” he said during an interview with Capital FM News.
But Mbugua has vowed to never return to hawking after his “three years of torture, pain and desperation” whose tipping point was the death of a colleague.
The colleague was stabbed during one of the many confrontations with the city askaris and succumbed to his injuries.
“It is several years since he was killed but the memories are fresh since I saw it happen,” he said.
The case occurred in 2011, but five years down the line, hawkers are experiencing similar incidents.
“My friends still complain of harassment, attacks and extortion from county askaris,” he pointed out.
From the manner of the arrest to how they are taken to cells, he says their human rights are violated.
“If the county government was serious about addressing the problem (of hawkers) they should not be taking bribes from hawkers,” he pointed out. “Out of the many arrested, only a few who either refuse to bribe or don’t have money are taken to court.”
He is now lucky to have formal employment but his soul bleeds for his former colleagues, whom he says are a great pillar in the economy of the country.
“It is sad even to think that nothing may be done even in the next five years. But they should know the numbers are increasing due to the levels of unemployment,” he cautioned.
His is no different from hundreds of others who have lost business.
During clean-up ‘operations’, those found in undesignated areas lose their merchandise which is never returned besides being arrested.
“Once you bribe your way out, at times it is hard to get your products back,” Peter Muriithi, a city hawker says.