Slums in Kenya bastions of enterprise?

 WE ALL KNOW that the informal sector is the leading employer in Kenya. Official data shows that in 2011, the formal sector employed 2.123 million people while the informal sector employed 9.9 million Kenyans. This leads to the question: where do these people live? A majority lives in informal urban settlements, popularly known as slums. Much of what we hear about slums is squalor and debauchery. 
A section Of Kibera: The slum has more TVs than
the affluent neighbourhoods

True, there is poverty, moral decadence and dirt: There are no flash toilets in the slums, nor is there running water and plush homes. But slums are bustling with entreprenuers. Thanks to robust economic growth in Kenya, slums are turning into beacons of enterprise rather than by-words for squalor, Poverty, crime, debauchery. A one week survey by this publication established that slum dwellers are an enterprising lot. Many earn more per day than their peers in the formal sector employment. Perhaps, slums generate more income than the affluent estates in their neighbourhood. At least that is true of the two slums in my neighbourhood in Nairobi, among them Kibera, allegedly Africa’s largest slum.
Kwayas Garage:These cars will soon be back on
the road,sparkling

 Most are manual workers, small scale traders, hawkers, urban farmers, skilled artisans in the informal sector. They provide needed services to the affluent neighbourhoods. These include; general merchandise kiosks, fruit and vegetable stalls, car-repairs and maintenance, and personal care activities as Barbers and salons. This study is stratified into three levels depending on skills level of the slums dweller ranging from those who have very little education and no skill to those with an elementary education and plus a skill. 

We begin with the lowest cadre in the unskilled category, the scavengers. These are people who make their living from collecting and selling waste plastic and metal. Among these is Job Mwai Kimani, alias Jobo, a scavenger. Each morning, the 25 year-old man is out on the streets collecting plastic and metal items discarded by the richer neighbours. He collects 25-30 kilos of waste plastics and metals a day. 

 By ten O'clock, he has filled his bag and is on his way to Mabobo, who buys the merchandise. A kilo of plastics fetches Ksh 10 (11 us cents) and that of metal Is Kshs 20(US$0.22). Jobo earns between $ 2.75 and $3.44 dollars a day. That is the average income for, in some good days, he can earn up to US$5.00 a day. 

 Mabobo, a former street boy, is a vital cog in this business. He stands between the scavengers and the recyclers. He is their market and the reason why they are up early every day of the week. Now married and a father of three school going children, Mabobo has graduated from scavenging to dealing in waste plastics and metals. He is contracted to supply the recycling plants with 1.5 to 2 tons of waste materials every week. He spends Kshs 22,500 (US$ 256) a week to buy the materials from his suppliers-the scavengers like Jobo. He sales his stock for Kshs 36,000 ($ 414), making a cool $158 a week. In a month he makes a total of US$632. 
Mabobo Weighing A customer's wares.

His wife, Meri, runs a business too, in fact three. She runs a kiosk selling general merchandise, a food kiosk, and a mobile money transfer. Her total earning s from all these businesses a day is Kshs 1000(US$12 a day). In short the Mabobo family takes homes nearly US$992 a month from their businesses. This is the kind of salary senior civil servants take home a month. 

 Slum dwellers understand very well economies of large scale production. So they ensure that they capture a large market for whatever they sale, be it roast or boiled maize, boiled eggs, used clothes and shoes. The quantities they sale in a day determine the profitability of their businesses. And they work hard to widen their markets. In terms of earnings, their take home pay per day is higher than their peers employed in the formal sector.
 Others such as Oscar, a car-wash, take home more. During the week, he washes about five cars per day and one or two Carpets. That earns him Kshs 1,600 (US$18.40) a day, enough for him and his three employees. His business peaks over the weekend when he washes 40 cars a day. He takes home Ksh 8,000(US$92) a day. During weekends, he employs six more casual workers.
Jobo: Sorting his wares for weighing

 Apart from the Menial workers named above, there are skilled workers such as Motorcycle taxi riders, mechanics, house helps, traders, hair dressers and other artisans. They repair; fridges, air conditioners, electrical appliances, vehicles, tailor our clothes and repair them, weld our gates, and make metal windows, doors and gates- all service in demand by the affluent. Many own the businesses they operate- in some instances they own more than one business. 

Kawaya (wireman) and his four friends lost their jobs twenty years ago as Mechanics. They set up a jua Kali-Informal -garage at an open space in the neighborhood of affluent estates in Nairobi’s Langata area. They all live in Kibera slum. Their business premises is just about three-kilometres from Kibera. So they walk to work every Morning. Theirs is one of the four informal garages within the same one kilometer radius neighbourhood. Initially, there was a mechanic, a panel beater and the wiring guy. In those days, in the late 1980s, making US$50 equivalent per week was tough. They were unable to meet their bills on time, but they still trudged on. 

To date, thanks to the growth of car owners and the population of estates in the neighbour hood, taking home US$20 day is not a big deal. On very good days they make up to $100 a day. Today the garage has grown from the initial four to at least 100 people direct employees. These range from Panel beaters, to welders to wiring guys to painters. Each takes home on, average Kshs 700-1300 (US $9-15)a day. 

 The garage has spawned the growth of support businesses such as spare part shops where one can buy vehicle consumables as engine Oil, break fluids, ATF, bolts, nuts air cleaners, fuel filters etc. Even Paint shops have cropped up here. These shops have rcut down the time it used to take to repair a vehicle. Initially, motorists had to go the garage for a diagnosis, and then would travel to Nairobi’s city Centre -7 KM away to buy the spare parts then return to get them fixed in their vehicles. 

To date, with all businesses concentrated in the same area, it is easy to get your car serviced in less than an hour and continue with one’s business. These businesses, which are stocked in consultation with the Mechanics, have improved the earning capacity of the garage’s “associates.” 

 More people open an opportunity for further business. This large number of mouths to feed has spawned a large number of food kiosks and hawkers. Not only that, since the garage is patronized by the Middle income group, other businesses that serve the middle class such as Carpenters, Salons and pubs, butcheries, Vegetables and fruit Kiosks, general merchandise Kiosks and hardware stores. 

 For the Upper middle income groups in the neighbouring estates, the growth of slums coupled with their enterprise, has made life easy. The merchandise here is relatively cheap compared to the Shopping Malls and the quality is more or less the same. So for top-up shopping the middle class runs to the Kiosks in the neighbouring slums estates. 

What’s more, the neighbors in the slums offer credit facilities to their customers contrary to the malls where everything is paid for in cash. That is an added attraction for the middle class in the affluent estates. In the evenings, the Kiosks explode into a frenzy of activity, food stalls increase as more traders join in the alleyways selling cooked Fish, Chicken and roast meat to serve customers who find cooking expensive. 

 The larger the slum, our survey established, the bigger the market and therefore the more intense the evening activity as traders jostle to serve office-workers returning the City Centre, and Industrial area. There are cinema halls tucked away inside the slums where they show pirated Movies at Ksh 15(US cents 17) per head. But given the sheer population of TVs and the fact that DVD machines are way cheap, the most popular business here is pirating Music and Movies which sale for as little as US cents 57 apiece. The Movies are pirated from DSTV channels. This accounts for the occasional DSTV dish in the slums.


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