, NAIROBI, Kenya, July 20 – Her eyes were red and teary.
At about 4’5 height from where she stood, I could see her as she adjusted her head scarf.
All along she was restless as if worried about something unlike her counterparts, who kept making different chants to attract customers.
“Kumi kumi Kumiii, matunda fresh hapa (fresh fruits hapa),” almost lyrically, they shouted at different intervals.
This time, my eyes and hers met. She could tell I was gazing at her.
Susan Nyambura is a hawker along Haile Selassie Avenue, just outside Wakulima and Marikiti markets in Nairobi.
She needed an ear and a shoulder to lean on, I discovered after the interview ended.
Hers, is a story of pain and more pain, as every turn she makes to try better her life is faced with stumbling blocks, heavier than what she can handle.
Nyambura, a cancer patient is also a victim of the 2007 post-election clashes in Rift Valley, a widow, a mother of three and an “endangered species” in Nairobi, as the County heightens operation to kick out hawkers operating from the streets, walkways and so on.
But as established by Capital FM News, the operation has turned out to be a cash cow for County Askari’s, keen on making a kill from their misery.
The County Executives insists, all hawkers must go. But to where?
“They have carried everything,” she said, with a hoarse voice, probably from the wailing.
“I had borrowed some Sh1,500 which I bought fruits to sell. The other day, they also carried another stock worth Sh3,000,” now gaining courage, Nyambura said.
She had missed her regular visit to Kenyatta National Hospital, reason?
“I did not have money. I had hoped to make some cash today so that I can go tomorrow,” she revealed.
Pleading with this reporter, she added: “Please tell them (County Askari’s) to allow us to work even if it is for two hours.”
But she is even more worried about the latest development.
Formal traders want them kicked out from their operating ground.
“They are accusing us of being the cause of their problems with police,” she said.
Last week, hawkers and traders of the market engaged police in a vicious battle, to resist against attempts to adjust how they operate.
Wakulima Market officials had been arrested leading to the protests that started after the County moved in to remove hawkers doing business along the road.
Since then, Nyambura’s life and that of hundreds of others have never been the same.
-How corrupt county officials prey on hawkers-
It is a cartels’ world.
“You see those hawkers there…” raising her left hand, Nyambura signalled.
“They have paid more (bribe) to the County Askari’s and that is why they have not moved.”
And clearly, a vehicle belonging to the County Inspectorate Department had parked a few meters from where “the rich” hawkers were operating.
They have turned a blind eye to the rich ones.
Her claims were confirmed by tens of other hawkers who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“If they see me on TV, I will be victimized. They are bad,” one told Capital FM News.
Theirs is an antelope’s life in the jungle.
Among the traders, there are two groups of County Askari’s all given nicknames ‘borrowed’ from their modus operandi.
“There is squad mbaya (bad gang) that will arrest you and take you to court if you do not part with Sh1,000 or any other amount they want. The other squad just come to collect bribe from different times of the day. There is an agreement,” a hawker revealed.
-We fake death to avoid arrest-
Lucy Wanjiru has seen it all and no longer cares about concealing her identity.
During operations, if one is found off guard, she said, “just pretend you have lost your consciousness. It works. Where will they take someone whom they are not sure is well or not?”
But if you are faking, she cautions “you better to do it well. Never wake up even if you are beaten.”
It is a tactic Ochieng Otieno, a hawker has employed and survived.
“Life is hard,” Otieno, who is also a college student, said. “We are facing hostility from hawkers and traders working in the market.”
And according to him, they work for their families and for the corrupt officials, whose hunger for money is insatiable.
In court, the fines are punitive.
To punish those who have refused to bribe them, the County officials usually put more counts, to ensure the fine is higher.
“The last time I was fined Sh30,000. I worked for the county while in jail for one month,” Wanjiru said.
To avoid going to court, she paid a Sh1,000 (bribe) on Wednesday.
A majority cannot raise the fine and often serve jail terms.
-Fake promises? –
During the electioneering period, Governor Sonko promised to address what is largely termed as the ‘hawker’s menace.”
Among his proposals were to set aside some streets for agreed days for hawkers to sell their products.
The Governor also committed to construct more markets and reclaim those that have been grabbed by private developers.
With the ongoing operation to demolish “illegal stalls” in the County, thousands of people have been rendered jobless, property worth hundreds of thousands destroyed, like in the case of Buruburu.
An entire market was on Thursday demolished and tens of other adjacent stalls.
“This is a disaster. We are devastated,” Nicholas Ochieng, a trader in Mutindwa Market, which is located along Sonko Road, said.
He wondered, “Why is this happening despite the assurances the Governor gave during the campaigns?”
As reality sinks in their mind, they hope a lasting solution will be found.
Some, however, fear that the rate of crime may balloon, as youths seek other means to earn a living.
They say the county is creating more problems in an attempt to solve one.
For now, it remains a plethora of challenges for hawkers like Nyambura, who despite a myriad of challenges, has vowed to fight on.
Giving up, she said, would mean her family going hungry.