Monday, July 25, 2016

Bitter bile

Earning a living is easy; earning an honest living is not. If you doubt this, my first and only exhibit is the lengths the government of the county of Nairobi City will go to in order to prevent you from earning an honest living. If it is not the plethora of meaningless, yet extortionate, rules it is the overzealous interpretation of the very same petty rules and their enforcement in the most cruel manner possible. At the top of this cruel and inhumane edifice is the Governor of Nairobi, a man whose promises now give rise to bitter bile in the oesophagus.

In the past ten days, the residents of Nairobi have been reminded why their faith in the Governor or his government were singularly misplaced. First was the 14th Session of the UN Conference of Trade and Development that took place right across the road from City Hall. It fast became clear that the County Government of Nairobi City, having squandered three and a half years wasting time and money, does not yet have a plan for hosting hundreds of foreign officials and other dignitaries in comfort and safety beyond the cordoning off of "red zones" and the eviction of street families from the CBD. It is the hardworking office drones of the city who paid the price; either they were hours early to work or they were hours late.

But it is the manner in which hawkers and other informal or itinerant traders have been treated that the inhumanity of the system is apparent. On this very Monday, a video is doing the rounds on social media showing a woman, in fear for her safety and perhaps her life, cowering under matatu, hiding from the County Government's Inspectors (known as kanjo) for the offence of hawking onions on the streets without a permit. That she knew that an arrest would not end well for her, than a risky gambit was preferable to an arrest, is an indictment of devolution in the city of Nairobi. Nairobi is proof positive that devolution has been an abject failure. Nairobi is the cautionary tale.

The county government needs revenue in order to provide the services that the city needs. This revenue is quite easily raised from the sale of licenses and permits to all manner of traders, including hawkers and other itinerant traders. If the trade rules were administered fairly, trade offences would be few and far between and would most likely be by organised criminal syndicates and the inherently incorrigible. But trade rules are not enforced fairly in Nairobi. They never have. They remain colonial in their application and colonial in their enforcement.This county government and its governor know of no other way of raising city revenue that doesn't involve women hawkers quivering under matatus in fear of the odiously and malevolently violent kanjo.

Yet it need not be that way. The lies about new markets must end, of course. But the market that do exist need to be restored to the true users of those markets and not uptown real estate developers building apartments for Russian mafiosi and Chinese import/export businessmen with a focus on animal trophies. It is not OK to deny them an organised space with stalls and public amenities only to turn on them when they descend on our pavements in a disorganised manner to sell onions off of the ground in unsanitary and dangerous situations. Check out the stretch between Wakulima Market and the KPCU factory on Haile Selassie Avenue to get my meaning. If you think that the situation is normal, you deserve the government you have and the lunacy it brings to our lives in small and humiliating ways.

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