Meet Joseph Oduor,55, he is a jua cali artisan. When we visited him at his home in Kibera, he was tending to his youngest child three-month-old Millicent Adhiambo. He usually leaves for work at 7am but on the day we visit, he is running late because he has been waiting for us. After a short chat, I am a little baffled that as we walk out of the house, he places his daughter on the sofa and locks the door. “ Her mother works as a volunteer at a near by school so she comes to check on her,” he explained.
The walk to his workplace is long and treacherous and the scotching sun offers no reprieve. Joseph works at Kamukunji Jua Kali and its overcrowded and noisy because of the metal being pounded. Kamukunji Jua Kali was started by 150 former detainees of the British Government during the Mau Mau rebellion.
Jua Kali is Kiswahili for ‘hot sun’, the name came from the condition under which the artisan were working under in the 80’s. “They worked in open space without shade and used to complain of the hot sun”,said Francis Muikamba the Kamukunji Juakali Association Chairman (KJA). With time, the less than two acre plot become a hot spot due to joblessness in the country for the youth. Currently, there are more than 4,000 artisans working at here. For 23 years, Joseph, a father of six has mastered the art of making washing basins and chapati pans.
His work begins by heating the raw material to about 120 degrees this helps to rid the raw material of paint. After the heating, it goes through a traditional cooling process. “We pour soil on the material or bury them in the soil for easy handling,” he explains. To get rid of any remaining chemicals, the containers are later washed using sulphuric acid. They are then taken to the ‘factory’ where the basins are manually made.
The factory is made up of a group of more than 50 bare chested men who sit on the ground and beat the metal to the required shape. On a good day, an artisan can make 25 pans, each selling at Sh300 though commission for workers is Sh60 per complete pan. Joseph’s story represents at a small scale the plight of jua kali workers in the country. According to Fred Dawa, the secretary of KJA, more than Sh400,000 circulate within Kamukunji in a day.
Dawa says a lot needs to be done to support this industry which according to an IMF report provides employment to 74.2 per cent of the total employed population and contributes about 18 per cent to the country’s GDP. “We lack the machinery to make our products appealing,” he said.
portable farming in Kibera