Informal Economy

Every day on my daily commute, and as a measure to escape the choking Nairobi traffic, my matatu (bus) passes through an industrial district, well a different kind of industrial district. It is an industrial district without gargantuan factories with their chimneys rising into the heavens; it is an industrial district teeming with small and medium scale industries, widely known as ‘Jua Kali,’ Swahili for industries under the hot sun.

Mostly, the Matatus’ effort is an exercise in futility, and we get to spend more time in traffic, much more time than would have been if we used the main highway. I get to see and appreciate what these men and women do to earn a living. From my bus window, I see a man and his colleague slice sheet of metal with a hand-held lever. I see another man hammer up a square of metal into a water bowl, I can see a woman add a spray of blue paint onto a metal box, a man navigates his way through traffic and humanity, heavily laden with a new ‘jua kali’ oven.  There’s noise everywhere, metal knocking upon metal, the sound of a lathe machine, the sound of men load up newly made wheelbarrows onto lorries, sounds of traders and buyers and sellers haggle over prices of one or two items.

Although the sounds are beautiful to the ear, the smells are not so good. Open sewers empty into open roadside terraces; the roads are clogging up with dirt, the last time this particular road saw a fresh layer of tarmac was way before the coup. In another posher place of the town, inhabited by banks, insurance firms, consultancies, and NGOs, a new stretch of road is having its tarmac painted and roadside banners and lights installed.


The double standards from the Kenyan society are appalling. Conservative estimates in Kenya show that  ‘’the informal sector is quite large, estimated at 34.3% of the economy and accounting for 77% of employment statistics.Over 60% of those working in the informal sector are the youth, aged between 18-35 years, 50% being women.