Nairobi street transforms from den of thieves to thriving business hub

Sunday January 20 2019

Staff at Subscriber mobile phone

Staff at Subscriber mobile phone and accessories shop at China Ndogo in Timboroa Lane off Accra road, Nairobi. PHOTO | ANTHONY NJAGI 

By ANTHONY NJAGI

Before 2015, Timboroa Lane off Accra Road in Nairobi’s city centre was a no-go zone. The backyard lane, like many in downtown Nairobi at the time, was an eyesore and popular with street urchins.
It was the place of choice for handbags, phones and other valuables snatchers.

The lane has since been transformed into a business hub, with more than 20 entrepreneurs selling all kinds of mobile phones and their accessories. The place is now clean, safe and a source of employment for dozens of young people.

The lane has now been christened ‘China Ndogo’, as a sign emblazoned at the entry loudly proclaims. However, one will be hard-pressed to find a Chinese national here. The name was coined by customers since majority of shops here deal with merchandise imported from the Asian giant.

Here, customers are mostly young and techno-savvy people. This is because one can easily find the latest mobile phones and their accessories.

In China Ndogo, you will get the latest phones, earphones, memory cards, power banks and other gadgets. All the latest apps will be installed in your phone if it is ‘smart’.

The magic of the place is not the Chinese merchandise only. It is also due to the way the street has been transformed from a ‘wasteland’ to a roaring market.

Mr Steve Muriungi, one of the attendants at Subscriber Shop, says they source their merchandise from China since it is cheaper there.

“If you check most mobile phones that are used locally, you will notice the ‘Made in China’ label,” says Mr Muriungi.

The ideal location has propelled many businesses to success. Many matatu termini to upcountry locations are located in the vicinity. The famous Tea Room terminus as well as Coast Bus Services to the Coast, western Kenya and lake region 10-seater shuttles and other far off places are located in the adjacent River Road. The area is always teeming with travellers, translating to many clients for the China Ndogo traders.

“Although we get customers of all ages, most of them are young people who want to keep up with the trends,” says Mr Murungi.

Mr Anthony Maina, an attendant at another shop, says business is good, noting that the transformation of the lane has been godsend for many youths who eke out a living here. He is part of a group of five employees.

“We are always busy and due to the location, business hours run into the night,” Mr Maina says.

Although business is booming, the traders say the city authorities can make their work environment even better.

“With more street lights and increased security, we will be able to attract more customers and work for more hours since the area is busy during the day and late into the night,” says Mr Peter Mwangi. “We request the county government to improve the roads and provide more street lighting and security patrols,” Mr Mwangi added.

China Ndogo is a great example to Nairobi and other county governments on how to transform public spaces to thriving markets. From the godforsaken dirty lane it was only a few years ago, Timboroa Lane is now the centre of big business, boosting the county’s revenue. With improved security and infrastructure, disused spaces in urban centres can be changed into business hubs overnight.