André Sheydin


Njuguna James Kariuki
Year of birth

Context of the interview

Njuguna James Kariuku is a 23 year old mkokoteni operator and broker who earns his living money with mkokotenis.

22 Questions & 0 Responses

How would you describe your job? What exactly are the tasks you do daily/weekly/monthly?

My job entails carrying food stuffs from Gikomba market to the bus terminus. Sometimes, depending on the proximity, I take things up to the estates that are for small scale vegetable traders,
this happens in the early hours of the morning. At different times of the day or evening I sell some fruits at the road side from my mkokoteni. I am also a broker in the selling of mkokotenis, and I am also involved in the supply of materials used in the manufacture of mkokotenis.

What did you do before this job and how did you get into this business?

I was employed as a mechanic in a workshop that was burnt down during the post election violence of the disputed 2007 general elections. I was living in Kibera.

Have you noticed any changes in the industry of non-motorized vehicles since the beginning of your job until now?

Not much, but a notable change has been seen in the ownership. Most of the operators of these NMVs are not the owners, they are leased to them at a fee per day depending on the efficiency and size. Another change is the size, number and position of the wheels. When I first joined the business in early 2008 some of them where single-wheeled and operated by one person. Nowadays they are double-wheeled and can be operated by up to four persons depending on the size of the load.

Where are mkokotenis built and who builds them?

One of the major manufacturers of the NMVs is the Kamukunji Jua Kali association located along Landhies Road less than 500m from the CBD. Who buys this kind of vehicle and to what purpose? (e.g. self-use, rent, service, …) There are those who buy them for lease (they don’t operate them) but the main customers are the operators who may wish to expand their business by em- ploying others or repairing old ones.

Where and how are mkokoteni (and other NMVs) repaired?

The moving parts can be repaired in motor vehicle garages but they are mainly repaired by their manufacturers at the Kamukunji Jua Kali association workshops.

How much would you pay for a new/old mkokoteni if you needed one?

The price is dependent on the price of the raw materials, scrap metal, wheels but the price ranges from 8000-20000 ksh (80-200 euros).

What are the parts that most need replacing on mkokotenis?

The wheels.

Where are the vehicles parked when not in use?

Most of them are chained up at roadsides on electricity posts along bus termini.

How are they secured when being parked?

The wheels are chained (bicycle style).

What functions beside transportation do mkokotenis take on whilst station- ary? (e.g. sitting, sleeping, selling goods)

What functions beside transportation do mkokotenis take on whilst station- ary? (e.g. sitting, sleeping, selling goods)

Do you think the restriction zones for mkokoteni movement are legitimate? Would you extend or remove those restrictions? Why?

I think they are not legitimate. Mkokoteni are a cheap and flexible means of transport in Nairobi and the road-planning authorities should reserve certain lanes for mkokotenis to avoid the MV-NMV conflict.

What are the routes that mkokotenis use most?

The routes leading into and
out of the market areas; mainly Landhies Road, from muthurwa/gikomba markets.

How do transportation prices measure up and where do you see the differences compared to transportation via motorized vehicles?

Transportation by NMV is rather cheaper than MV, not only because it targets micro-businesses, but unlike MV it doesn’t require much capital input, fuel, insurance... Goods transported via NMV are not scrutinized by security agents, hence are more efficient over small distances.

What does it cost to rent a mkokoteni for a day/week/month?

Depending on its efficiency, it may cost from 200-500 (Ksh) for leasing on a trip basis and up to 3 or 4 successive trips can be made over a distance of 10 – 15 km.

What are the advantages of non-motorized vehicles compared to motorized vehicles?

They are easily accessible and cheap. They can also access the poorly planned shanty towns. They do not require a licence, insurance cover or training. Above all, they do not pollute the environment.

What would you say are the main advantages of non-motorized vehicles?

During traffic jams I am able to manoeuvre through the traffic, which gives me an edge over the MV.

What are the disadvantages of non-motorized vehicles compared to motorized vehicles?

NMVs are not efficient over long distances. I am prone to fatigue. I cannot use it as collateral to secure a loan in a financial institution. Vulnerability to accidents.

What is the worst situation you have ever experienced with non-motorized vehicles (mkokotenis)?

I once transported electronic goods and was cut up by an MV hence, it overturned and the goods got damaged.

If you could improve or change something about non-motorized vehicles (independent of the costs) what would it be?

The carrying capacity... Sometimes I overload the NMV, which puts me at risk of accidents.

If you had a choice, would you replace each non-motorized vehicle with a motorized vehicle?

No. NMV are a necessity brought about by poverty and poor roads in the shanty towns.

Do people try to install engines on mkokotenis or other kinds of non-motorized vehicles? What do you think about this development?

Absolutely they do! I have seen a lot of people improvising the NMV by attaching them to motor cycles and they use them as taxis to carry people… but it is not very common in Nairobi.

Do you think the city would lose something if people in Nairobi stopped using mkokotenis for any reason?

Quite a lot. The NMVs are the main source of transport as far as the movement of vegetables –sukuma wiki– to the most populous areas of Nairobi Eastlands, hence the people would miss their favourite delicacies. NMVs connect the non-accessible interior of most mar- kets –Gikomba– to the bus termini that carry some of these goods. It would also lead to loss of jobs for the youths who depend on it.