How Nairobi has sunk into lawlessness

City Askaris

Nairobi County Government Constables, formerly known as City Askaris, pictured in a meeting on the road along Haile Sellassie Avenue before embarking on a patrol along city streets on February 1, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Nairobi City, Kenya’s capital cand the commercial and financial hub of Eastern Africa, has turned into a complete mess as lawlessness reigns across the “City under the Sun”.

The capital has been turned into a boda boda, parking boys and hawkers’ paradise with the three groupings turning Nairobi’s city centre into their small fiefdom.

It is a mix of rules in the city as hawkers, parking boys and boda boda operators have their own set of rules while the county government has different ones.

The laxity of election campaigns and transition period have provided a perfect combination for the group to thrive as the new administration of Governor Johnson Sakaja finds its footing.

The pedestrian and cycling corridors set up by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) have been turned into boda boda stages. The riders park right inside the heart of the city centre with Kimathi Street and Kenyatta Avenue now at the mercy of the ruthless group.

Insecurity is also rife with the robbing of comedian Timothy Kimani, popularly known as Njugush, by a gang of armed robbers along University Way, is just a tip of the iceberg.

Hawkers have also taken over the city spreading their wares in every available space from alleys, streets, walkways and even right on the road turning two lane roads into single lanes.

Hawkers spread their wares for sale along Luthuli Avenue

Hawkers spread their wares for sale on the corner of Luthuli Avenue and Kamae Road on July 28, 2022. The city has seen an increase of hawkers selling various wares.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

For them, any time is hawking time as they report to the city centre as early as 10am taking up even spaces in front of shops. Street families are more emboldened to operate from prime city spaces.

Parking boys have also taken cue taking stranglehold of parking areas in the city centre with some working closely with City Hall parking attendants to fleece motorists.

Mounds of garbage also continue to dot the city as solid waste collectors seem to have taken a sabbatical despite the tough talk by the new governor. Little has changed since he gave a one-week directive to see changes.

“They are telling us they are now free to do whatever they please,” says one Nairobi County enforcement officer conceding lawlessness has taken over the city lately.

With Governor Johnson Sakaja’s repeated phrase about not wanting to criminalise enterprises in line with Kenya Kwanza’s “Hustlers creed”, the capital has witnessed a rise in activities that had hitherto been suppressed.

“Some think they are now free to be all over, despite the fact that there are laws. For instance, there are places boda bodas are not allowed to reach,” the enforcer adds.

Even the Acting County Secretary, Dr Jarius Musumba, admits that Nairobi has been a free-for-all lately.

Bodaboda riders wait for customers along Moi Avenue

Bodaboda riders wait for customers along Moi Avenue in this photo taken on October 1, 2022. Bodaboda have invaded such spaces in most of the streets in the city.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

“The lawlessness has been there for a while through the election period to now the transition period,” said Dr Musumba.

To rein in the boda boda menace, Governor Sakaja mid last month formed a committee to come up with designated pick-up and drop-off points for boda boda operators as well as digital taxis – who have also been accused of violating traffic rules in the city.

According to the Nairobi Boda Boda Association chairman Ken Onyango, Nairobi County has 176,000 registered boda boda riders.

The committee was given a week to identify the pick-up and drop-off points in the city for use by boda bodas and digital taxis in a move aimed at streamlining the sector.

The committee is made up the County Secretary, County Chief Officer in charge of the Inspectorate, Nairobi County boda boda chairman and the Nairobi chairperson of digital taxis.

In 2018, City Hall banned boda boda operators from within the city centre, with only courier service providers allowed to operate within the heart of the capital. This led to hundreds of motorbikes being impounded by inspectorate officers for flouting various county by-laws.

However, Dr Musumba told the Nation that Governor Sakaja has tasked the county officials to come up with a clear plan and not knee-jerk reactions for the whole spectrum of service delivery at the county government.

“We have set ourselves a target of a month, working till late in the nights, to come up with a concrete roadmap for every sector in the county government, with teams for each of the 10 sectors formed to come up with such masterplans,” he said.

The county secretary said the committee established to streamline the boda boda and digital taxis sector has been sitting and that they have come up with proposals that have been shared with boda boda officials for their feedback.

“The boda boda officials will now go and discuss the proposals before getting back to the committee on the way forward,” he said.

Heap of uncollected garbage at the Khoja Bus Terminus

A matatu drives past a heap of uncollected garbage at the Khoja Bus Terminus on August 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Further, another committee has been set up to look into the hawkers’ issue. However, before the committee even comes with its recommendations, he said authority has already been given to flush the hawkers out of the city centre, with a one-week ultimatum issued.

He said the task of the committee is to come up with a plan to regulate the hawkers, recommending designated places for the hawkers in order to end their invasion of the city centre.

“We cannot have everyone coming to the city centre. We need to have some order. I believe that within one week, we will also have the plan ready and decide on where to take them,” said Dr Musumba.

“Most of the hawkers have stalls but they wait until elections are near to invade the city centre because the rules will be relaxed as politicians seek votes,” he added.

On the issue of parking boys, he said City Hall is mapping all the parking bays in the city with a view to reclaiming them admitting that the management of the parking slots have been wanting.

“No one has employed the parking boys at the various parking areas they operate and so we will not allow them to continue being there,” said Dr Musumba.