Untold story of pain, tears, and anger among traders in downtown Nairobi

"Why does the gov't care if a phone cover is counterfeit?"

Untold story of pain, tears, and anger among traders in downtown Nairobi

Downtown Nairobi is famous for its chaos, mostly caused the huge masses who frequent the street shops to get the best bargains for nearly every product and service.

For many years, Kirinyaga Road had been jokingly described as the place where you can get any spare part including for human organs.

The story, however, has changed and as a trader told Pulse Live Kenya – distressed traders are wandering in the streets – many talking to themselves aloud as a sign of their growing psychological pain.

Another trader in Nyamakima recently wrote a viral letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta – decrying how the government had ruined his import business.

I used to make about Kshs 5Million in a bad month and up to Kshs 7-10Million in a good month in the years 2009-2015 Net Revenue. Biz was good then.”

But from 2016 up to now....getting even Kshs 1Million in month is a struggle...NB: THIS is gross revenue not NET Revenue.....ukiweka rent ya all my shops na my office, staff salaries & other expenses, my friends at the end of the month I usually remain as broke as a church mouse,” the letter read in part.

From River Road to Kirinyaga RoadL, Luthuli Avenue, Taveta Road, Accra and Dubois Roads – as well as in the many lanes in between – the story is the same.

The Jubilee government has introduced several policies that have hurt the once-thriving industry that saw many Kenyans frequent China to get cheap products ranging from construction material, beauty products, electronics and phone accessories.

Winnie Maina, a trader who talked to Pulse Live Kenya, admitted that some of the products were counterfeit and took advantage of the Chinese innovation that has given Europe and the US a run for their money.

The government, through the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA), has cracked the whip with frequent raids in downtown stalls where both the fake and genuine products are destroyed in chaotic clash.

Why is the counterfeit so concerned if a Kenyan uses a counterfeit phone cover? And even when we have genuine products with authorization from Kebs, they still destroy them,” Maina said.

It has also become common for importers to get extra duty from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) or have imported products destroyed after shipping them from China.

I know so many people who have been bankrupted after taking loans to import products from China with the hope that would resell them in a matter of days, only for the goods to be destroyed or confiscated at the port. Things are bad,” another trader said.

The importers are in the process of creating a lobby group that will allow them to negotiate with the government of the day through their strength of numbers but for now, tears and anger abound.

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