Workshops and Projects » Mobility in Nairobi 2009 » Jobs on the go: Mobile Workplaces in Nairobi



Nairobi, Kenya
Ellen Sturm
Gurmukh Panesar
Bob Muhia Njoroge

Initial Position

Mobility: What constitutes a mobile workplace, what is made mobile?

Context: How do mobile workplaces relate to and fit into the context of other aspects of mobility?

Preparation and methodology: What were the initial hypotheses, and which field research methods were considered?


What are mobile workplaces and how can these be categorised?

  • Who are the mobile workers?
  • Where do they work, where do they live?
  • How do they organise their work, are they an organised community?

Goods vs. Services: A survey of mobile workplaces. Both merchandise and services are offered by mobile workers. The worker either waits for the customer in a public space, meets him/her on the way or comes to his/her home.

Legal, Illegal, Corrupt: A brief summary on laws and by-laws for mobile work, how police and security personnel deal with mobile workers, and the influence and degree of corruption.

The Workers: A demographic survey of the workers

Places and Mobility: Where can mobile workplaces be located and how do the workers get there? What means of transportation do they use? What limits their mobility? Where do they get their merchandise, how do they transport it and how do they store it?

Customers: How do customers perceive mobile workplaces, do they appreciate them or do they find them obstructive?

Networks: What is the relationship among mobile workers in certain professions or the various groups among each other?


  • The cloth vendor
  • The hawker
  • The matatu driver
  • The knife grinder


What are persistent problems of mobile workers? How can the working conditions for mobile workers be improved?

Identifying problem areas: Which are the problems mobile workers are facing – focussing on aspects of organisation, security, storage of merchandise and tools

Transformation: Attempts to simplify mobile work. Mobile or stationary means of storage of merchandise and tools. Aspects of strengthening the community and tools for self-help in this field.


Item Overview

#11 Hawkers selling goods at night next to the globe cinema roundabout

Pedestrians are passing by illegal hawkers at night, close to the Globe Cinema Roundabout. Their stands are build up in a way so they can easily grab their stuff and run away, should the police appear. Many people seem interested in their goods, they have to deal with several customers at once, each. The ones seen here sell clothes like trousers and jackets. This situation was after 10 pm, but anyway it was... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#12 A shoe shiner working next to a bus station

A shoeshiner took a seat on a few stones, located on a muddy place right between a big street and two bus stations. He has numerous brushes and shoe creams with himself and spread around him and even bags with more ‘tools’, probably cloth to polish the shoes with. He is serving a customer, while another is already waiting in line, other people rush by without interest. Shoeshiners can be seen all over... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#13 A disabled man in a wheelchair selling candies

A man sitting in a wheelchair, which has a little foldable table attached, on which he has placed the goods he sells: Sweets. It is very early in the morning and still dark, but the city has woken up a good while ago, pedestrians pass him regularly already and cars are driving by. He chose a location behind a fence, so there is a barrier between him and the cars. Bags are hanging at his wheelchair, they... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#14 Waste collectors

These waste collectors were seen in the central business district, hanging on the waste truck in a manner that was anything but secure. They basically sat in the waste they had collected. It is unknown what kind of waste it was, if from bins or the side of the road or how far it traveled. But it was one of the most official seeming mobile workplaces seen. The uniforms they wore give a hint that this waste... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#15 Woman selling peanuts

This woman was sitting on a parking bench, not far from a roundabout, very close to the university. It was a busy street, especially as she picked a place to offer her snack which lied between the busy roundabout (with the inner central business distric on the other side) and an illegal matatau stop. The vivid colors she wore made her visible from far away. She was not allowed to sell anything there, but... more

27 Sep 2009 by Bob Muhia Njoroge

#16 An ice-dream vendor in the central business district

A man selling ice cream has parked his mobile box on the side walk and waits for customers. His box is open, even if there is no customer and he seems not to do something with it at the moment as well. People are passing by, very much ignoring him and his offerings. He is wearing a white, long jacket, like sometimes seens in the professional food industry. It’s unknown if this is because he belongs to a... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#17 A knife sharpener at work

This knife sharpener was seen in a district farther out of the city, doing his job in front of one of the many butcheries that also offer meals and thus function as restaurants as well. The bike next to him was his traveling device, unfortunatly it's unknown how he exactly transported his knife sharpening machine with it, if he did so at all. more

27 Sep 2009 by Bob Muhia Njoroge

#19 One of the central bus stations in the early morning

Half past six in the morning, this bus station is bursting with life. It seems to be highly chaotic, the busses of various sizes do not show a visible pattern the way they are standing there. Many couldn’t move unless some other bus was gone first. People are crowding the place like ants, either directing towards a bus or towards the market located behind the busstation. There are terminals, but way more... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#20 Using traffic jams to sell goods

A man is selling inflatable, colourful children seats between cars stuck in a traffic jam. Two seats are blown up, he has to hold one up high to navigate between the cars. The sky is grey, promising more rain. He is not the only one selling goods here, a little behind him another man can be seen, selling something else. Whenever there is rain in Nairobi, the traffic situation gets even worse than it is. So... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm

#21 Selling food in Kibera

This woman was sitting on the side of a 'street' in kibera, selling the chapati she made there on the spot, rolled in used office paper. The street in this slum was barely broad enough for a car to pass, but it didn't matter, as there were no cars anyway. Just pedestrians walking past her on the unpaved and littered way. The little stand she uses consisted of a small chair and a little table, as well as a... more

27 Sep 2009 by Ellen Sturm