Navigating through city centre is proving a tough balancing act for Nairobi residents as they fight for space with armies of hawkers that have invaded the CBD.
The hawkers nonchalantly spread their wares on walkways and roads, completely numb to the inconvenience they pose to pedestrians and motorists.
It is a menace as complex as the politics of the city itself. The hawkers are deemed a hot potato issue in Nairobi politics. Their high population is frowned upon by politicians in the day and embraced heartily at night.
Threats by Governor Mike Sonko to evict them from the city centre are often accompanied by half-hearted crackdowns that fizzle out after days of cat and mouse games between hawkers and city askaris.
Their routine is known. The hawkers leave their assigned markets in the afternoons and descend to the city centre. They are organised in groups that enjoy turfs in strategic locations in the city.
They take up close to half of the space of roads and walkways. Pedestrians and motorists share the rest. A wrong step and you can land on a pile of tomatoes.
Jane Kioko, a trader at Muthurwa market, says they have been forced by market circumstances. Customers are no longer going to the markets, so they bring the market to customers.
“Most shoppers nowadays no longer have the time to come all the way to Muthurwa market to shop and this in turn has had a major effect on our sales income. That is why we have to go and bring the goods where the client is,” explained Ms Kioko.
A check done by Nairobi News on Haile Selassie Avenue captured hawkers who have turned the major traffic artery into a market. The section from Marikiti market to the Muthurwa roundabout is notorious
Other roads under hawkers-capture are the entire stretches of River Road, Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Road.
John Kuria, a second-hand clothes hawker, said he is ready to risk arrest by city council askaris on a daily basis.
“The market no longer is as good as it used to be and no one appears to want to go inside the market and do their shopping. So to make ends meet I have to come out in the streets,” said Mr Kuria.
Muthurwa market, opened by President Mwai Kibaki in 2007, has slowly been reduced to a shell due to poor drainage and uncollected garbage.
Sanitation and security in the market are a headache. A foul stench coming from the mountain of garbage mostly from the groceries and burst sewers are the order of the day.
Muthurwa was aimed at giving hawkers a central location to sell their wares instead of them turning the city roads and pavements into small markets.
The market is estimated to hold close to 10,000 traders and vendors who operate various businesses, ranging from sale of foodstuffs, clothes, electrical appliances and motor vehicle spare parts.