Both day and night, Nairobi City is characterized as a hive of activities. Transport is always a big deal in the country’s capital, from buses, trucks, Taxis, and Boda Boda to handcarts or mkokoteni in Swahili.
Given the number of people that flock to the city center every day, it is undoubtedly that people in the Boda, Boda, Taxi, and Matatu industry take home some good cash.
As such, many entrepreneurs have invested heavily in the above sectors, with some owning fleets of buses plying different routes. But how many have ever thought about the mkokoteni transportation business?
Moving around the city center, you will spot some men pulling their handcarts and jostling for space with motorists on the busy highways.
The handcarts are common sights in Nairobi’s busy streets, including Luthuli Avenue, River Road, and Country Bus. Strategically placed in various locations, these carts are owned by men who rent them to pullers daily at a fee.
Some of these businessmen also double up with dollies that are commonly used at bus stops to help passengers with heavy luggage.
Kioko Mbaluka, an owner of 20 dollies and three handcarts, says the emergence of the dolly has changed the business… for the better.
“I have been in this business for over 20 years… I used to own handcarts, but I have since transitioned to trolleys as they are now in fashion because of their ease of movement in traffic.”
Mr. Mbaluka hires out his dollies for between Sh. 50 and Sh. 70 and the handcarts for Sh. 100. Another owner, Peter Njuguna, says he makes between Sh. 5,000 and Sh. 3,000 weekly from hiring out his 17 dollies and two handcarts at Sh. 80 and Sh. 150, respectively.
Gabriel Mucheru, who has been in this business for ten years, owns 15 handcarts and hires out each between Sh 30-Sh 150, depending on the size.
A Mkokoteni puller disclosed that hiring a cart is cheaper than buying one.
“I normally charge Sh. 50 per bale depending on the distance and carry up to 30 bales. That totals to Sh. 1500 per trip, and I make up to three trips per day,” he stated.
According to various sources, a new Mkokoteni retails at between Sh. 10,000-Sh. 15,000, while a dolly goes for between Sh Sh. 5,000 and Sh. 10,000 depending on the metal quality.
It is estimated that over 2,000 hand carts and over 5,000 dollies are operating in Nairobi’s CBD. The metal baskets are hired out for between Sh. 50 and Sh. 150, money that is paid directly to the owners.
The Mkokoteni business is always at its peak during festive seasons when people travel to and from the city. The pullers are estimated to make between Sh. 700 and Sh. 1,200 daily.
The handcarts are also used to transport water in estates with a water shortage. Daniel Wanyama, a water vendor at Uthiru, says he sells a 20-liter Jerican at Sh. 20.
On a normal day, he sells up to 50 Jericans, which translates to Sh. 1,000 per day. He said he makes up to Sh. 2,000 on a good day. He uses his own Mkokoteni, which he bought after years of hiring.