NAIROBI (Xinhua) – As motorists and real estate investors enjoy the benefits of the construction and opening of Thika superhighway, a large number of hawkers who used to sell wares to road users stuck in traffic on the road are now recording losses and relocating to more congested roads.
In Nairobi, as in many other growing African cities, traffic jams are common because of poor road network. Sometimes motorists spend up to two hours in the gridlocks during peak hours costing the country an estimated 602,409 U.S. dollars a day, in terms of lost man hours.
This provides a market scene for hawkers and peddlers who take advantage of the gridlocks to sell their wares to passengers and motorists. Most of the goods sold include motor vehicle accessories, household items, flowers, fruits and toys for children. Langata Road, Uhuru Highway, Jogoo Road, Mombasa Road and Kenyatta Avenue are some of the roads most popular with hawkers. Until its completion recently, Thika Road was another popular market venue for hawkers but now that is no more as there are no more traffic jams on the new highway. Titus Kariuki is one such a hawker.
The trader, who has been in hawking for four years, like many others, is counting losses “There are no traffic jams anymore on the road. That means no business for us. The road has ceased to be a lucrative business zone,” said Kariuki on Saturday. Kariuki, who has been selling his wares on the road, recalled business was booming even as construction work that started in 2009 went on. “Commuters and motorists used to spend hours on the road in the morning and evening. Traffic jams would stretch up five kilometers. We would sell to them clothes, fruits, household items, mineral water, life saver signs and toys,” he said.
A hawker, observed Kariuki, would spend hours on the road until the traffic jam cleared. “We would start our business at about 4 p. m. We would stay on the road sometimes until 9 p.m.,” he reminisced. On a good day, Kariuki would go home with up to 45 U.S. dollars. However, he used to make an average of 30 dollars. “It depended on one’s aggressiveness and how bad the traffic jams were. On a day when traffic was worse, we would make lots of money,” he noted.
During the day, Kariuki said he sometimes went back home or stayed at a bus park selling his wares to commuters. “Most of the time I would go home because there was little business during the day and it was one way of avoiding confrontation with City Council officers,” he noted. David Mueni, Kariuki’s colleague, said that selling goods in traffic jams is far much better than at designated places. “In traffic snarl-ups, you are likely to sell more because it is you the trader who goes to search for buyers. And that is what most customers prefer. It is better than spreading your wares on the street or market,” he said.
He noted further that most buyers stuck in traffic snarl ups do not bargain much. “They will pay because vehicles may move anytime. Then, you deal with different kind of potential buyers, which widens you market,” he said. To deal with the change of fortunes, the two say some hawkers have resorted to selling their wares on the highway, against the law.
“We know it is against the law and it endangers our lives, but what do we do, we must earn a living. Besides that, some public service vehicles sometimes drop commuters on the highway. These are the people we target,” he said. Other hawkers, however, have relocated to other roads within the capital to continue with their trade.
“When you go to most major roads in the morning and evening, or during the day when there are traffic jams, you will find hundred of hawkers competing for customers. Most of them have relocated from Thika Road,” observed Kariuki. While he noted his business has been affected immensely by the superhighway, Kariuki believes that perhaps it is time he changes his trade.
“I see the loss of business as a wakeup call for me. It is certain I cannot continue hawking goods in traffic jams. Soon, most Nairobi roads will be turned into superhighways and that means, loss of job,” said Kariuki who is thinking of opening a hardware shop. (Xinhua)