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Pub Hawkers

For many who frequent pubs in Nairobi’s Central Business District or in the upmarket areas of Westlands or Hurlingham, the idea of shopping while having a drink is alien to say the least. However for those who enjoy their tipple in neighborhood pubs, popular known as locals, hawkers are a normal occurrence in the pub.

Jean’s Pub, whose mantelpiece shows it was started in 1971, is located in Nairobi West, a suburb ten minutes away from the city center. Nairobi West has gained notoriety as the hub of locals in Nairobi and Jean’s Pub which has been around for forty two years is at its heart.

A cloudy Wednesday afternoon found me sampling the Jean’s Pub experience as I whiled away time awaiting the evening match between AFC Leopards and Sofapaka at Nyayo Stadium which is a stone-throw away from Nairobi West.

Never mind that it was 4pm, on a weekday, the pub already had patrons who in complete disregard of the Mututho law which banned sale of alcohol before 5pm on weekdays, were enjoying their beer. The patrons were a godsend to the many hawkers who made an unending procession into the pub selling all manner of wares. These men and women could comfortably rival Nakumatt supermarket’s tagline of ‘If you need it, we’ve got it.’

The wares available were as varied as the hawkers who sold them: suits, pangas, vehicle signs, phone accessories, stationery, cutlery, blouses, shirts, jackets, sweaters, CDs, DVDs, belts, ties, socks, vests, office shoes, sneakers and belts were on offer.

At first I was irritated by their persistence and presence, however my curiosity got the better of me and I got intrigued. Watching as they interacted with patrons in the pub, I wondered what exactly made them tick and if they made any money for their trouble.

Two ladies – Marion and Fiona – who appeared to be in their mid-twenties and frankly out of place at the local were seated at the table next to me. They were seemingly enjoying themselves and had ordered roast chicken to accompany the drinks they were downing.

The presence of the hawkers irritated them greatly and finally Fiona shouted, “Can’t you see I am here to drink and not to buy your wares? Why are you disturbing us? Let me sing for you then and you see how much you like that!” to a bemused hawker who took it in his stride and moved on to the next table.

Clearly pub hawking is not for the faint-hearted but it did have surprisingly rich rewards as I learnt from Wambui, a socks and vests hawker, who indulged my curiosity after I bought a pair of socks from her.

Wambui, a single mother of two has been hawking in Nairobi West pubs for the last three years and she has no regrets. “I work six days a week and on a good day I make two thousand shillings,” Wambui proudly told me. Noticing my surprise, she further informed me that the hawkers who sold men’s clothes made even more money than she did and contributed Kshs. 1,200 daily to their chama.

She went on to explain that her work day runs from 4pm to 8pm which gives her ample time to take care of her two school-going children and that her choice of socks and vests was inspired by their easy availability in town at convenient hours which dovetails perfectly with her motherhood duties.

In contrast, the clothes hawkers who have to purchase their merchandise from Kenya’s largest secondhand market, Gikomba have to be up at the break of dawn to be able to get the best wares. Their early rising is however compensated by their higher margins as illustrated above.

Challenges that Wambui and the other pub hawkers face are: frequent harassment by the City Council askaris who demand bribes, the enforcement of the Mutotho law which reduces the number of patrons they can sell to and restriction of access to pubs by pub owners.

Nyambura, a waitress at Jean’s Pub explained, “We only allow them to hawk on weekdays as weekend’s it would be chaotic having a full house and then have them walking around.”  She however saluted the hawker’s perseverance and said they provided a timely service to the patrons.

The number of patrons increased and the hawkers continued streaming into the pub. With my recently acquired insight, my perspective had shifted. Rather than viewing them as a pesky interference to my pub time, I now looked at these unassuming men and women – who make more money in a month than an average office worker – as the face of Kenya’s resilient entrepreneurs who are quietly and diligently bettering their lot and by extension that of Kenya.




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