Recognizing Informal Trade in City Development Plans

Diana Kinya, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 28 July 2016

An analysis of the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey of 2004/6 shows that 61% of urban workers in Kenya are informal traders against only 34% formal traders. These include both men and women involved in small/unregistered trade activities such as domestic workers, street vendors, hawkers among others. These informal businesses offer support not only to the larger city economy but also local market level that is affordable to low-income households/slum families (locally reffered to as “Kadogo economy”). This allows goods to be sold at lowest quantity to an extent that a family can buy packaged sugar enough only for one day unlike in the normal market where the lowest quantity of sugar would be a kilo. This makes it such a vibrant sector in the informal settlements supporting not only the traders system but the residents as well.

Due to its unrecognized nature, informal trade is not planned for in the Nairobi master plan and, therefore, informal economic activities infringe on any open land, such as road reserve, railway reserve, town streets and other undeveloped public/private spaces. They often face numerous evictions from the city officials, and many evenings in Nairobi are characterized by running battles between the street vendors and the city police trying to forcefully evict the traders from the streets. However, immediately, as soon as the police leave, the traders get back to the streets.

"Every time I see the 'kanjo' chasing the roadside traders in the estate and in the CBD, I cry at the lack of vision in us as Africans. Their existance tells us that there is need for the role that they play. Contrary to the popular assumption, Nairobi has enough space. We have not learned to utilize it. With a little imagination, the roadside traders can be offered better facilities for which to carry out their trade," says Miss Maina, a community organizer working with informal traders in Kibera where the railway reserve has been infringed upon by informal traders. These traders have been involved in carrying out daily activities, including cooking, fast food, and selling clothes and other wares along the reserve, resulting in operation derailment accidents, deaths and loss of property.

In 2010 the Kenya Railways Corpration through the suport of World Bank while working together with informal traders in Kibera and Mukuru slums saw the need and an opportunity to develop innovative ideas that could reclaim the railway reserve being infringed upon by traders while at the same time giving them a chance to operate. The project aimed to establish an extended safety corridor for railway operations and maintenance in Mukuru and Kibera slums. Through establishment of a special planning area, the project developed a relocation action plan (RAP) that allowed for the land sharing of the railway reserve and set a portion of it to provide residential units for households and business stalls for informal traders who were operating on the reserve.

Through a negotiated model, the project was able to incoporate informal traders within the railway renovation plan by providing 1740 stalls for all the informal traders who were trading on the reserve and 30 units for informal schools to enable slum mothers get day care services for their children while working on their businesses.

By incoporating informal traders in its railway upgrading plan, the Kenya Railways Corporation has gone ahead to demonstarte that it is possible to achieve inclusive development with minimal disruptions of informal sources of livelihoods. The project was able to mitigate against social economic impacts of relocating the traders. While discussing with the beneficiaries on the difference between the initial and current situation, Mr Kyatu, one of the vendors said, “There is a great difference. Now we have a cleaner and more organized environment to work from. There are also security lights and we can therefore do business until late at night.” Mr Kyatu says that this kind of inclusive development not only ensures better working conditions for them but also safeguards their livelihoods against long-term hardship.

Photo: Antoine Tardy

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