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The Struggles of Disabled Vendors in Nairobi County : A tale of Resilience.


By Lucas Gitau.

Imagine waking up one day, ready to face the challenges of street trading despite physical disabilities, only to be met with directives forcing you to vacate the premises with no alternative in sight. This is the harsh reality for the Disabled Vendors Community of Nairobi County.

On November 14th, these resilient individuals took a stand. Frustrated by ongoing harassment from county government enforcement officers – enduring rough treatment, beatings, and the confiscation of their merchandise – they gathered at KenCom area and marched at their own pace to deliver a petition to the office of the Governor. Their purpose was simple: to be heard.

“…malalamishi yetu ni kwamba Nairobi County government as a whole wamekuwa wakituhangaisha kama walemavu, wamekuwa wakitutenga kama walemavu wanapopanga mipangilio yao kama county government hawatuhusishi kama walemavu na kwa hivyo tunapoangalia hiyo tunaona kunakutengwa na sasa sisi tuko hapa kwasababu ya demand zetu, kwasababu sisi ni wanabiashara wadogo wadogo kwa Barabara za jiji la Nairobi na hatufungi barabara zozote tuko kando mbali sana…” Chairperson, Disabled Vendors Community.

Joel Mwangi, Chairman of the Disabled Vendors Community decried that his community had been subjected to exclusion and marginalization by the Nairobi City County government in  planning and development of policies affecting them. This was in reaction to the pronouncement by the Governor on having all street vendors sell their merchandize from 4pm on selected streets. A unilateral decision that was made without consultation with the community.

The traders, persistent in their pursuit of justice, camped outside the governor’s office for over 24 hours (from 10am to 3pm the next day), bearing the harsh reality that most of them are sole breadwinners. This unwavering dedication occurred amidst the biting cold and the absence of sustenance, emphasizing the urgency and severity of the situation.

The baffling aspect of this struggle is the clear disregard for existing frameworks and safeguards. Kenya boasts a progressive constitution, emphasizing human rights, dignity, and the protection of marginalized individuals. The Persons with Disability Act of 2012, alongside Nairobi City County by-laws, further reinforces these principles, prohibiting the denial of access to employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Despite these legal safeguards, the Disabled Vendors Community found themselves pushed to the point of protest. Why, one might ask, did it come to this when there are clear legal frameworks at both the national and county levels?

It is unreasonable, barbaric, immoral, and illegal to harass vulnerable and marginalized members of society, such as disabled vendors, whose only desire is to earn a living for their families on the streets of Nairobi. When did those in power become so insensitive? The Nairobi City County, led by the Governor and the County Assembly, stands accused of failing to uphold the law, subverting their oaths of office by not adhering to county and national laws and discriminating against persons with disabilities.

The need for law and order in the city is acknowledged, but doing so in exclusion of key stakeholders is nothing short of hypocrisy. Elected leaders, including Governors and Members of County Assembly, must realize that ultimate power lies with the people, as enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution under Article 1. Discrimination against persons with disabilities seeking opportunities to improve their livelihoods is straight out a violation of human rights.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” It’s time Nairobi leaders, heed to these words and ensure that the disabled vendors are not just heard but also respected and provided with the opportunities they rightfully deserve.

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