Volume 8, Issue 1, June 2022
Pamela Olivia Ngesa, Felix Kiruthu, Mildred J. Ndeda
Colonialism and the Repression of Nairobi African Women Street Traders in the 1940s
By the 1940s, the Municipal Council of Nairobi had enacted a host of By-Laws to control the presence of Africans, especially women, and had set up several agencies to implement them. Consequently, women street vendors were not only denied access to legal trade, but remained unwanted in the town except under very special circumstances. Nonetheless, pushed by their adversity, a number of them resorted to illegal hawking and demonstrated their resilience against the odds. However, as the hawkers’ earnings subsidised the colonial low wage migrant labour system, it became difficult for the colonial administration in Nairobi to resolutely stamp out their activities, especially in Eastlands. Besides, by the end of the 1940s, the Council’s fight against hawking had slackened owing to unsustainable expenses. This paper examines the effect of colonial repression of African women street traders in Nairobi’s Eastlands area in the 1940s. Using the Gender and Development (GAD) perspective along with data mainly from libraries, archives and oral sources, it interrogates the women’s attractions to Nairobi and the logic behind their street trading activities. It also examines the colonial dynamics that exploited the attitudes and beliefs of African male elders to validate the colonial government’s gender marginalisation policies against women, particularly the hawkers. The paper concludes that the gender-based constraints against African women traders notwithstanding, propelled by need, the women irrepressibly struggled to find space in the prosperous economy of Nairobi in the 1940s.