‘Mia mia! Fifty fifty!’ Rents the air in Nairobi CBD at five in the evening. As soon as a pickup truck with a car plate number 047 pulls up in the now congested street, all hell breaks loose. Mouths shut, legs act. Kenya is renowned for producing world record athletes but if you happen to watch these runners with sacks on their backs, you might for a moment think that we are normally represented by the wrong lot in the international arenas.

Hawkers run from the Nairobi County Askaris for many reasons: to avoid extortion, save their goods, avoid harassment and to save their dear lives. As a buyer or just a passerby, you dread being caught in the midst of the commotion for you might end up injured or worse; be mistaken for a hawker. This cat and mouse game between the hawkers and county Askaris dates back to when Nairobi had mayors. However, a lasting solution is yet to be found.

Hawkers are a nuisance to the City. They create unnecessary snarl ups and make the walk ways impassable. Courageously, they display their products outside business premises, blocking the entrances as well as creating serious price competition. Unlike the shops they pay no rent, taxes, or licenses and have zero employees therefore can sell the same goods at almost half the price in the shops.

This has never gone down well with shop owners. In September 2016 conflict sparked between shop owners and hawkers in Eastleigh, birthing a business standoff that lasted days. Business resumed after a while but in March 2017 the hawkers and shop owners were at it again. Annoyingly, authorities have consistently demonstrated their paucity of ideas for their only way of addressing the issue has been nothing but teargas and batons.

In as much as the hawkers are an eyesore, they exist because a demand exists. A demand married to convenience. The operational hours for the hawkers are late afternoon into the evening. This happens to be the time when Nairobians are moving from work to home. Tired as they are, they lack the time and energy to go to the market, resultantly the hawkers take the market to them.

Estimates indicate that there are 50,000 hawkers in Nairobi with the CBD hosting over 20,000 of them. Hawking has with time evolved; traders with shops move to the streets to hawk in the evening, traders with no shops hawk too and even students in campuses go to the CBD to hawk. It is a means of survival. With the current tough economic times, the number is ballooning as stalls along Tom Mboya, Moi Avenue and River Road are going vacant by the day. The tenant’s fall back plan is hawking.


The biggest shareholder in this hawkers predicament is land grabbing. When the Mwariro hawkers market in Kariorkor was grabbed, the traders were left with no other option but to invade the CBD. However, the market was reverted to the County by Governor Mike Sonko in late 2017 and has been under construction since June 2018. Additionally, conflicts would be alien in Eastleigh were it not for the local cartels who unlawfully converted the Eastleigh County market into malls.

In 2007 when President Kibaki opened the 700 million shilling Muthurwa market, there were barely any hawkers on the streets afterwards. More than a decade down the line and the 10,000 capacity market is shabby. The hawkers have since gone back to the CBD owing to the poor drainage, insecurity and poor lighting that forces them to call it a day at 6:00PM.


Doctrines of economics dictate that business must be carried out in an orderly fashion and that Caesar must be given what belongs to him. Hawking differs. Nairobi County ought to tax the hawkers who trade in the City, howbeit, this cannot be fruitful without a feasible structural plan.

In the run up to the 2017 general elections, the hawkers stalemate became Sonko’s biggest campaign tool. He proposed an annual payment of 2,000 shillings by the hawkers for a business permit in tandem with the Constitution Petition 3 of 2014 which states that, hawking without a permit is illegal.

His quest to bring sanity to the City hasn’t been a lone walk in the park. The Nairobi City County Trade and Licensing Bill of 2018, Nairobi City County Pop Up markets and Street Vendors Bill of 2019 as well the Senate Hawkers Bill of 2019 have all been on the fore front of standardizing hawkers operations. The already passed bills seek to ensure that the hawkers are registered, pay permits and are provided with appropriate times and spaces to operate in.

However, the laws only remain active in paper. This is not shocking to Nairobians especially after the Nairobi County Government and the ministry of transport introduced car free days (Wednesdays and Saturdays) where parking would be provided at the Railway Station and Uhuru Park starting February 1st 2019. Hawkers would then be allowed into specific streets raising about 40 million shillings in taxes per day according to Paul Maringa, PS Transport. Unfortunately, the idea never spanned past its inception.

“I am hearing about permits from you. How do you even start talking about permits with the Kanjos (City Askaris)? Here we fight with them daily as they try to extort money from us. Kwa ground vitu ni different!” Opines Hillary Kimani, a hawker at River road.

The question as to what lies between the passed laws and their implementation is critical. The hawker stalemate has for long been a lucrative money making scheme that extends to the top leadership of the County. Their policy seems to be; don’t eradicate hawking, keep the hawkers on the streets to ensure ingress of bribes.

In 2016 , African uncensored through an exposé; Kanjo kingdom unraveled that bribes worth 11.5 million USD are collected by the City Askaris annually. Seems a motivation enough to keep the pandemic alive.

The gazette notice no.1609 of 25th Feb 2020 sealed the transfer of functions from the Nairobi County government to the National government under the ministry of devolution. One important function is that of planning and development which is responsible for the hawkers menace. We are left to sit tight and cross our fingers hoping that the wave will finally break. But from our Government’s track record, its will is no different from that of a millipede.