“Under the Hot Sun” – Jua Kali Businesses in Kenya

Millions of Kenyans work in small businesses as artisans, mechanics, and vendors under trying conditions, even without shelter from the elements. Many of them use entrepreneurial ingenuity and initiative as they strive to move beyond subsistence, supplementing incomes for their families and creating jobs for others. Since at least the 1980s, the Kenyan Government has recognized the importance and needs of the jua kali sector and proclaimed policies to promote its development. Yet, little has changed.

Local governments harass jua kali business owners, assessing arbitrary fees and confiscating goods. The businesses are commonly denied title to the land where they are located and are shut out of formal credit systems. The official federation appointed by the government to represent the jua kali has not heeded their input and as a consequence has become moribund.

Kayole Jua Kali Association, Nairobi

Kayole Jua Kali Association, Nairobi

The way forward appears to depend on the services and advocacy of voluntary jua kali associations. In recent years, a number of voluntary associations, thanks in part to CIPE’s help, have improved their governance and professionalized their services. What’s exciting is that they are working together on national advocacy, which has got the attention of Kenyan President Kibaki.

Now the associations are asking each arm of the government to do what it has been promising to do, to improve living conditions and improve the environment for small businesses. The lesson from this? For policies to get implemented, there needs to be an organized voice that truly represents a constituency and holds the government accountable. To learn more about the current activities of the jua kali associations, read CIPE’s newest Reform Case Study, based on interviews with the chairmen of four voluntary associations: Jua Kali Associations in Kenya: A Force for Development and Reform.