Sakaja sacrifices Green City in the Sun for morass of hawkers, pickpockets and matatus

Little is said of the promise of installing automated traffic lights and new model of dealing with offenders

In Summary

•Sakaja defends the hawkers as eking a living and that his administration is pro- business. The price: The Green City in the Sun.

•He  wants a bitmore order and cleanliness but doesn't want to put hawkers out of business and the population is disgusted with his "efforts".


A woman jumps over stagnant water in Kware, Embakasi South. Residents complained of narrow roads, open sewer and dumpsites, which endanger their lives. Little has changed.
GREEN CITY: A woman jumps over stagnant water in Kware, Embakasi South. Residents complained of narrow roads, open sewer and dumpsites, which endanger their lives. Little has changed.

Oh, well, they were only campaign promises so be careful about taking them to the bank. Only the hawkers and rogue matatus are ecstatic.

Close to seven months since Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja took over, the city is still a far cry from the order, hope and dignity he promised.

Of course, he did say he supported hawkers and businesses but would like to bring a pinch of order and not ban the hawkers or send them far off.

That isn't making a lot of people happy, except the unruly hawkers and pickpockets that rule the city along with matatus who have their own way.

Rebellious hawkers occupying sidewalks and pavement spaces in the CBD, matatus pick and drop passengers at random terminals, you'd think litter is ornamental, it's everywhere

Traffic jams impede movement, fuel road rage and everywhere you look is disorder

The capital once known as 'The Green City in the Sun', has earned a new moniker, 'Hawkers' Paradise', with the invasion of unauthorised traders, slowly but surely overrunning the central business district.

A spot check by the Star found that alleys, backstreets, walkways, streets, avenues, roads and even pavements — every available space has been overrun by the traders.

Tom Mboya monument area adjacent to national archive has literally turned into a chaotic open air market. It's a beehive of activities and all kinds of goods are for sale any time of day.

The matatus have taken up pretty much all the spaces along Tom Mboya street, all the way from Koja to Afya Centre and Moi Avenue.

Haile Selassie Avenue is not spared as public transporters stop and pick passengers at any available space, disregarding designated spaces.

Double parking and various matatus at one place has contributed to the traffic snarl-ups and congestion.

Mfangano street has been the latest nightmare where matatus from Kitengela and Umoja have taken over, leaving little space for movement

The last legal allocation of picking-dropping zones was done in 2000.

The walkway and pavements in narrow streets like Latema Road are virtually non-existent now as the ‘nomadic’ traders rule supreme in the city.

Prior to 2021 under the defunct NMS, hawkers only used to parade themselves downtown, along Tom Mboya Street, Ronald Ngala, Latema Road and River Road but observing spaces for pedestrians.

Then, city inspectorate officers, known as Kanjos would engage in cat and mouse race as they attempted to enforce the city bylaws.

The traders would only come from the backstreets in the evening to sell their wares. Not in 2023.

The cat and mouse games not turned to be exhibited by the traders and pedestrians scrambling for space.

From second-hand clothes, household items, shoes, stationery, vegetables and fruits hawkers, you name it, hawkers start selling their products as early as 1pm

The melee has given rise to pickpockets and petty thieves, making the city increasingly insecure.

Asked about the situation when he met City Hall and assembly journalists on Tuesday, Governor Sakaja promised to act soon, but cautioned that residents should temper their expectations because he campaigned on a pro-business platform.

“Those hawkers are just doing business. They have children to feed and houses to pay up. They are just eking out a living. We want to be pro-business,” he said.

But the governor said part of his action to sort the mess would not necessarily eject the hawkers from the CBD, but to streamline their operation,” so that no one is putting their wares in front of a shop selling the same things and yet the owner of the shop pays rent.”

Sakaja’s approach to dealing with the hawkers’ question seems to have stemmed from the lessons learnt from the attempts by his predecessors.

Governors Evans Kidero and Mike Sonko had attempted to relegate them to the city’s periphery, restricting them to back streets and alleys.

However, the move failed as hawkers argued that their customers don’t walk to them, it is the traders who need to be where their prospective buyers are.

“Any decision to chase us from where we see our customers [will fail.] We voted for Sakaja because he promised not to touch us,” Humphrey Njuguna who sells shoes along Wabera street told the Star on Monday.

Like Njuguna, most of the traders have resisted attempts to move them saying that with a tanking economy, being stationed where they find no customers is recipe for chaos.

City Hall had come to the sad reality that hawkers are here to stay and instead of fighting them they proposed to make them operate in an orderly manner.

Sakaja’s efforts have included registering hawkers with a plan to designate spaces for them.

City Hall said that so far, it has registered some 6,000 traders in the drive and 29 spaces identified in the alleys and CBD.

Director of markets Joyce Kyalo said their approach is not to interfere with the business of the hawkers but to enable them flourish.

“Governor Sakaja wants small-time traders to flourish under his leadership, but he also wants order in the city. It is also to ensure they trade in a dignified manner,” Kyengo added. 

She said the county will instal electricity, erect sheds as well as improve the working conditions of the traders.

Areas earmarked for paint works include Dubois, Sotik, Turkana, Posta and Kirinyaga lanes.

Traffic snarl up and congestion in the city is another nightmare. 

A spot check by the Star revealed that the congestion nowadays starts as early as 1PM, with matatus overcrowding the road to get commuters back home.

The situation gets worse during rush hours from 5pm when the overcrowding of matatus along the road is mixed with traffic in and out of the CBD.

It worsens when hawkers place their products on the walkways blocking easy movement of the pedestrians, who are left with no choice but to scramble the roadsides with the many matatus are stationed along Tom Mboya Street.

Behind the Kenya Archives building facing Tom Mboya street, matatus plying Waiyaki way have taken over.

Across the road, matatus from Eastleigh, Juja, Thika and some plying Jogoo Road heading towards Donholm have also taken over the roadside.

The stretch from  Tuskys Taveta supermarket all the way to Odeon, is packed with matatus from Waithaka, Kiambu and some plying the Eastleigh route.

A National Transport and Safety Regulations document released last year February showed that 272 matatu Saccos are registered to operate in the city.

However, there are 420 unregistered Saccos, which raises the question of who allocated them space.

The promise of installing new and automated traffic light system and a new model of dealing with offenders has faltered. Nothing much is heard about it anymore. 

(Edited by V. Graham)

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