The burden of the dishonest hustler in a promising economy


Two weeks ago, I bought rice ‘from source’ in Mwea, Kirinyaga County. However, when I got home, I discovered it wasn’t the pishori I had been promised. This was the second time I’d been conned with sprinkles of real pishori and a cunning smile from the sellers.

While most hustlers strive to make an honest living, there are those that thrive on dishonesty, and it’s not something unique to rice sellers. A green peas seller on the Gilgil-Nyahururu road once ran away after I discovered that half the bucket was made up by a piece of sack.

Carpenters who only start working on your items when they see you. If they finish before you come, they’ll easily sell what you’d ordered and start afresh.

Mechanics who only work on your car if you hang around wasting precious time. That, however, ensures your car does not leave with more mechanical problems than it came in with.

Kiosks or vibandas that will sell you a big mandazi that’s 90 per cent air. Honey sellers mix in sugar after your two or so purchases. Fundis who will ensure the work never ends. I could go on and on. I’m sure each of you can share incidents of dishonesty involving hustlers. But why do these types of hustlers have such a high marginal propensity to tell untruths?

Some dishonesty or cheating is premised on the fact that most customers are ignorant – they know little about the product or service they’re purchasing. How many can differentiate a genuine spark plug from a fake one? How many can estimate how long it takes to make a sofa set?

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Occasionally, hustlers cheat you because you have trusted them too much. They also know you’ve got no time to compare them to alternative service providers. Often, they collude with each other to extend your misery. Some hustlers think their customers have bottomless pockets.

But there is class of hustlers that finds it hard to be dishonest. Examples include barbers, tailors and hairstylists whose results are easy to see. But they can be dishonest in pricing, use of peripheral products like perfumes or use of alternative materials.

Lost confidence

Dishonesty is sweet; you make free money. But it’s expensive in the long run. Ever wondered why lots of hustlers never expand their businesses? The hit-and-run mentality is regressive. It ensures you live from hand to mouth. Dishonesty erodes the customer’s confidence in you, and then they desert you.

If only more hustlers would be more honest – they could build a formidable customer base and expand their businesses. They could open new branches and with time, expand to other countries. Dishonesty has led to Africa’s ‘missing middle’ – creating economies where plenty of small firms or microenterprises exist alongside large firms, mostly multinational corporations, yet there are few businesses in between.

More honesty would promote small hustles into the next Googles, IBMs, Toyotas, Wal-Marts, Safaricoms, Equitys, Samsungs and other famous brands. It takes time to reap from honesty, but once you start to, you do it for a long time and in torrents – it could even run across generations.

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