Capital FM (Nairobi)

13 November 2012

Kenya: Forced to Inhale Cigarette Smoke to Earn a Living

Robert Mzungu, a 35 year old man has to persevere heavy smoke billowing inside one of the designated smoking zones within the City of Nairobi for over nine hours a day to earn his daily income.

When I arrive for an interview with Mzungu, I have had to wait for some time for him to serve the many customers coming in to buy cigarettes from him at the zone designated by the City Council of Nairobi.

Mzungu who is physically challenged has earned his living this way for the past eight years.

"Sometimes, this smoke overwhelms me. I come early in the morning and I will leave late in the evening when my customers are finished... it's about persevering. And you know I cannot sell from outside there, the city council askaris are on standby, to arrest me," he tells me after I enquired how he is able to work in such an atmosphere.

Mzungu who lives in Nairobi's Kayole suburb has to work extra hard to be able to feed and take care of his family of five; his wife, his son and three other children of his sister in-law.

Last year, he wanted to take a small loan from one of the local banks to expand his business but was unable to get the finances since he does not have an Identity Card which he says got lost five years ago while he was on a visit back in his village.

"Last month I went back to my chief's office to start a fresh the process of getting a new ID but they told me that I am a conman because of my age and considering my disability, they didn't believe me. I feel so discouraged because I need to get more capital through a small loan to move on," Mzungu says.

Mzungu was born a normal boy in Marach village in Busia County in 1977, but his life changed at the age of nine when he was plagued by polio which made him drop out of school.

He however says things worsened when he was injected with wrong medicine at a local health centre (which he wanted to remain anonymous).

"My friend, I was walking just like you, but I got polio. Then they injected me with a particular medicine and in few weeks my body was gradually changing. I was so scared. I was hospitalised for two years and in the end my legs were completely gone. I remember everything vividly," Mzungu explains.

Despite his disability, Mzungu says he never lost hope and started selling farm goods at a kiosk back home for few years before he came to Nairobi to look for 'greener pastures.'

"I get an average profit of Sh450 daily and this is what I use to take care of my family. If I don't do this, my wife will run away. She does not have a job," he says.

He however says he is glad that he is not on the streets begging because of his disability but will work hard to earn a living.

"Every human being has his or her own disability, it maybe eyes, legs, stress, heart and many others. But everyone must wake up and work, President Kibaki will never come to where you are and give you a job. When you beg, your dignity is undermined," he challenges Kenyans who are physically challenged and who are on streets as beggars.

Speaking to Director of Public Health and Sanitation Shahnaz Sharif, he warns that it is critical for Mzungu to move to a better place adding if he continues to inhale the smoke for more than two years from now, his health will be at risk.

"This gentleman is exposed to what we call second-hand smoke or passive smoking. He stands the risk of getting diseases associated with those who smoke. In the new Tobacco Control Act we passed, we said smoking should only be in designated areas, why? So that you do not expose others to second hand smoke," Sharif said.

Mzungu's daily wish is to get a better place nearby where he will not only have fresh air but also maintain his customers to keep his business for future growth.

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