Field Report: Unemployment in Nairobi
Charlotte, Bikes Not Bombs' International Programs Director, spent five weeks in East Africa visiting our partner Cycloville in Nairobi, Kenya and meeting with potential partner organizations.
Throughout my two weeks in Nairobi I’ve been struck by comments about two interrelated topics: youth unemployment and the upcoming election. Youth unemployment (ages 15-30) in Kenya stands at around 60%. Youth unemployment is especially apparent in Mathare, a low-income area where Cycloville runs the Bicycle Enterprise Development Programme. Mathare is one of the areas in Nairobi where horrific violence broke out after the 2007 election. During the 2007 post-election violence, over 1,300 people were killed in Kenya. The next election is this August, and many people spoke of the high youth employment rate as one reason they are nervous about what might happen. With so many youth desperate for jobs, many say that it is easier to pay youth to carry out politicians attempts to stir ethnic violence. Many also comment that the high youth unemployment rate contributes to Al-Shabab’s recruitment in Kenya. As one person said to me, if you’re poor and a political party or terrorist organization comes to you and offers you $100 to work for them, it is an incredibly difficult thing to turn down.
This is why Cycloville’s focus on youth employment is so important.
One of the primary goals of BNB’s partnership with Cycloville is to increase the supply of bicycles coming into Kenya in order to enable bike shops to expand and hire more people, and to train low-income youth to fill those jobs. When conducting a baseline survey amongst bike shop owners in Nairobi 2 years ago, every single shop reported that there were simply not enough bikes to meet customer demand. Most bike shop owners traveled to Uganda and Tanzania to buy bikes because there were no bikes to buy in Kenya.
In the last two years we have shipped over 2,200 bicycles to Nairobi. These bicycles are vital in maintaining a healthy supply of bicycles to the bike shops that Cycloville distributes to. In the last 2 years 5 new bike shops have been able to open in Cycloville’s distribution network. When I asked a new shop owner about why he was able to open a shop he said that it was because he felt confident enough in the supply of bikes that he would be able to run a healthy business. His shop now employs 3 people full-time, and 1 part-time person, with plans to open another shop next year.
While in Nairobi I spent time biking to some of the 15 shops in Cycloville’s distribution network, and talked to the shop owners and workers about how supply has impacted them in the last 2 years. Every shop now employs more people, and some have been able to open second locations. On average, shops have hired 2.5 more people, and nearly every single time shop owner cited increased supply of bikes as the reason they have been able to expand.
Most shop owners also reported that the increased supply of bicycles has lowered the price of bicycles to customers, therefore making bikes more affordable. In Nairobi, 54% of people walk to work because transport is so expensive and traffic is so terrible. By making bicycles more affordable, more people are able to buy bikes to avoid either walking far distances for work or paying high bus fares.
Though every bike shop said that business was not good right now because people are nervous to spend money with the upcoming election, everyone expressed optimism about the future of the bike businesses in Nairobi. Nearly everyone had plans to open new shops and hire new people in the near future.
Keep an eye out for my next field report talking to the first graduates of the Bicycle Enterprise Development Programme and how good employment and a steady wage has impacted their lives and the lives of their families.