Jua Kali (open air enterprise) has come a long way, but it maintains its old looks. It is associated with artisanship: metal foundries and fabrications, welding, and auto repair amongst other pursuits.
In recent times, however, the face of Jua Kali has been changing. Along Upper Hill Road, next to the offices of the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA), are several open-air kiosks providing digital solutions to NTSA customers.
While driving on the road recently I was overcome by curiosity and I stopped to find out what the many young people with laptops and power backups were doing by the roadside in the scorching sun.
It turned out that policy changes towards digitising the NTSA’s records had created several digital micro enterprises for several young people.
Downtown at Nyayo House, several other young people huddle together over laptops to serve those needing services at the immigration offices.
The services they offer include online assistance to: transfer log books, obtain duplicate log books, renew driving licences, make Kenya Revenue Authority returns, payments for advance tax, public service vehicle licences, and booking for inspection of commercial vehicles.
The least we should do to them is to recognise that their services greatly compliment that of the public sector to enable greater productivity and improved governance.
When I talked to them, I noted that they were nervous and quickly asked them why they seemed suspicious of me. They narrated how they are harassed by Nairobi county government officials, who sometimes confiscate or break their equipment.
They are largely treated not as creative minds, but criminals. Yet unemployment is a major problem in Kenya. Allow me to take you through my imaginations of flipping the problem of street hawking into an opportunity.
Imagine if NTSA or the Labour and ICT ministries were to create a 1,000 square foot co-working space within NTSA or Nyayo House and embraced these creative young people. In no time, they would grow new enterprises.
As we digitise records, the services of these young people will be required near government service delivery centres. In essence, we have an opportunity to create thousands of jobs that complement the public sector.
What these young people want is just a good working space (void of vehicular fumes and the scorching sun), reliable power, connectivity and decent sanitation to do an honest job. This is not impossible.
In the past, Kenya provided sheds for Jua Kali enterprises as a strategy to help them grow to become formal enterprises.
Watching these young people deliver services with precision, you are persuaded to provide them with enabling facilities.
We have resources within the Youth Fund to provide seed funding to create new opportunities. Without disruptions from authorities, these young people make an average of Sh2,500 - Sh4,000 a day from their highly competitive enterprises in a day. With minimal support from a seed fund, it would be possible for them to afford rent for the space.
If the authorities were keen on the co-working space, other more complementary enterprises like courier and cafeteria services will emerge to assist lower the cost of rent.
There is no enterprise that is fully formed when it starts but an opportunity for young minds to get started will lead to better enterprises in the future.
In making policies for Wanjiku, there is need for inclusive debate. Many of the existing policies on the informal economy rarely have any input from Wanjiku.
The academia spends hours researching on how to formalise informal enterprises using pre-selected questions meant for the Western audience and fail to ask simple contextual questions.
We must stop this nonsense and deal with our problems creatively. Informality is not a choice. It is a cry from our people that we need to recognise their creativity and innovate around it.
The mama mboga hawker problem is an opportunity to create an effective supply chain, a centralised commodities exchange and national logistics networks.
In this, you create new jobs of inspection at source and micro courier services.