Kenyan Informal Sector-Kamukunji Jua Kali Market
For the lucky few, who conduct their daily businesses from the CBD it may be impossible to capture the reality that is inherent in Nairobi’s Kamukunji jua kali market without fabricating it. A trip to the jua kali market is not one for the faint hearted. It takes you right through Machakos `airport’, the busiest bus terminus in the country, and into Nairobi East lands.During the colonial period,East-lands were the African quarters, hence social amenities and infrastructure were poorly planned and developed.>>>
Over the years, the subsequent overcrowding due to rural-urban migration only made what was already a bad situation worse.
However, East-lands is exactly where I set out for, to explore the expansive jua kali artisan shades at Kamukunji market. Jua kali is Swahili for hot sun, a name that arose in reference to the blistering East African outdoors in which the artisans work.The jua kali has had quite a history. In a country with arguably the highest literacy levels in sub-Saharan Africa, informal sector is still looked down upon. However, in the past decade or so, the unemployed have been forced to wake up to the realization that dependency entirely on the formal sector for employment is neither prudent nor sustainable.
Kamukunji is a daunting environment by any standards- mad man symphony from hammer on anvil beating metal into submission fills the air, good natured chat from hearty artisans fill the shacks which seemingly go on and on in a never – ending maze. Blue, red, green wares are stacked, or parked in prominent displays; nearly anything imaginable from simple gardening tools to complex agricultural machinery and household furniture are manufactured here from scrap material.
All products here are made from recycled material. Empty drums are salvaged and cut into metal sheets which are used to make barbeque grills or gutter to capture rain water. Old motor vehicle tires are used to make wheels for burrows. Old tins are fabricated into pots and pans.
The Kamukunji shacks are a source of employment for many Nairobi youths. Most stalls are owned individually, or in small group partnerships. Artisans are often encouraged to grow and initiate their own enterprises. Eric Owino owns one of the shacks, and employs two other artisans. He says they get a cut from items sold, “I was once just like them, if they work hard, it will not be long before they own workshops of their own”
The most striking thing about the jua kali is the empowerment mindset of the artisans; the can do, will do attitude is almost infectious. Indeed, given the history and context of the jua kali, this attitude is exactly what Kenyan economist should advocate for coupled with some finances if at all the Kenyan dream of curbing the growing rate of unemployment among the youths is to be realized.