Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Disabled beggars become problem in Nairobi


Seated against the wall of the Kenya Archives building in Nairobi, Martin Mkuria, whose legs have been mangled by polio, spends his days waiting for passers-by to throw a coin or two into his dirty plastic mug.

"At least I get enough for my meal," said Mkuria, 38, when asked how much he makes in an average day.

"I do not intend to continue with this work, my plan is to save enough money, and turn to any retail business," he added.

His takings are better than they would be in his native Tanzania, he said, adding that many of the beggars in the Kenyan capital originate from the neighboring country.

Most pedestrians walked past Mkuria without acknowledging his existence; occasionally, one parted with a coin while others let loose with a harsh word or two.

"Beggars in Nairobi must be removed. They are a burden to us while they can work to earn their living," sneered one such passer-by.

Lucy Wangui Maina, 41, who sells biscuits and cigarettes on Harambee Avenue, warned that begging can become a trap.

"You know a continuous habit becomes a disease, therefore those who have turned beggars have acquired the disease. There is a lot a disabled person can do to earn money, but not to become beggars," she said.

"Look at me, both my legs and hands are disabled and I cannot do any heavy work, but I have been working as a hawker for over five years now, despite the frequent harassment by the Nairobi City Council authorities," she added.

"I have appeared twice in court, charged with trading without a license and obstructing the street. The first time I was fined 800 shillings (about US$10) and in the second appearance I was forgiven," recalled Maina, a mother of two.

She lamented over what she considers discrimination against the disabled in Kenya.

"I completed my secondary school in 1995 and later joined a training college where I trained as a telephone operator. But I failed to get a job, I think because am a disabled person," said Maina.

Steven Sifuna, a disabled young man who makes rubber stamps on Harambee Avenue, also said that most beggars in Nairobi are from Tanzania.

"Most of those beggars in the streets in Nairobi come from Tanzania. We disabled people have many problems in getting capital to run a business, but that does not mean you have to go to the streets and start begging," he said.

He also accused the Association of Physically Disabled People in Kenya and the government of neglecting the disabled.

Kenyan beggar Yusuf Odhiambo, 36, who plies his trade outside Nairobi's Jamia Mosque, said he resorted to begging after city council officials confiscated his merchandise worth 6,000 shillings (US$80).

He said he used to sell mainly sweets and cigarettes in the streets before his property was seized because he did not have a license.

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