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Hawking is one of the most notable businesses in Nairobi. We cannot ignore the fact that hawkers are amongst us and hawking is part of our lives. Ever thought of how they make their ends meet and continue to thrive on the streets? Javan Wasike, a Bachelor of Commerce student at Strathmore University shares with us what it is like as a hawker in Nairobi.
Amongst the many businesses he has engaged in in his life, this adventurous entrepreneurial gentleman interacted in the hawking hustle too. He takes us through on how the journey has been.
What were you selling as a hawker?
I used to sell various products depending on the time of the day, early in the morning I used to sell mint, juicy fruits, PK and airtime. In the evening I used to change to umbrellas, trench coats to sweat shirts depending on the day. Being a hawker, you have to be versatile. You have to change depending on the current season.
What was your biggest obstacle as a hawker?
County askaris and administration police officers, we referred to them as Kanjo and Rhino respectively. All hawkers work as a team, “ukiskia rhino kimbia, ukiskia Kanjo potea kabisa,”
Once ‘the Rhino’ gets hold of you, you have to part with a small fee ranging between 50/= to 200/= but city askaris used to beat us up and demand between Ksh. 3,000 to Ksh. 5,000 bribe. Parting with the money meant parting with your day’s profit.
How much did you make in a day?
In a day, I could make roughly around Ksh.2, 800. Having collected around Ksh 800 in profits during the morning hours and Ksh.2, 000 in the rest of the day. However, on a good day I could even make Ksh.5, 000. Business was good only in four days. That is from Tuesday to Friday. On the other days we made a less.
Is there competition in the hawking industry?
The market is too big and it accommodated very many of us. The only limitation is space. I did not feel much competition since somehow every hawker had a unique product and we are like a big family of strangers.
On the first day I was scared but the reception was opposite of my expectation. I was bought for water, briefed on the code language such as Rhino and I they were kind enough to give me fare back home on the rough days.
The only major competition I did experience was during Safaricom sevens. On that day I tried face painting. Unfortunately, other aggressive hawkers were shouting “huyo rangi yake ametumia maji ya sewage (His paint has been mixed with sewage water). It was such a disappointing experience for me.
How did you differentiate your target market? Who was your target in this case?
Nairobians were my target market, my aim was to serve their different needs throughout the day. My target market in the morning were all commuters commuting along Thika road, and in the evening, I concentrated around the different bus stations.
What kept you moving?
I liked to do business for the adventure and since in hawking days were never the same, it was enough adventure for me. Imagine starting your day with possibility of not making a sale, meeting new faces, running battles with kanjos and the possibility of being arrested. I was a young spirit, ready to take the risks. I truly learnt a lot on those streets!
Javan is a fourth year student at Strathmore University pursuing Bachelor of Commerce – Accounting and Entrepreneurship and he is set to graduate next year.
We at Inversk wish him all the best!