Brokers giving Maasai market a bad name

A tourist looks at some of the different ornaments at Nakumatt Junction Mall on Ngong Road. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

A tourist looks at some of the different ornaments at Nakumatt Junction Mall on Ngong Road. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

From a distance, a deep cultural heritage portrayed by colourful African artefacts welcomes you to Nairobi’s glorified Maasai market.

But once you are inside you encounter a cartel of brokers posing as local guides but who conspire with the merchants to factor in their commissions on the items they lure customers to buy.

They act like they know exactly what you are looking for and where to find it. But if you seek their guidance, you will end up buying goods at exaggerated prices.

“The brokers usually agree with the sellers on a commission for every sale. But some give the price quoted for an item and pocket the rest,” says Evelyn Jumba, the Nakumatt Junction Maasai market co-ordinator.

Pocket everything

“Some pocket everything and leave the traders with nothing. They are a real nuisance and give marketers a lot of trouble. We do not allow them here so they can only hover around the open-air Maasai markets.”

As a buyer approaches the entrance, a youthful gang of brokers appears from corners of the busy market and, without approval, begin paying homage to the goods on sale and their vast knowledge of the market. They sometimes get into bitter exchanges among themselves as they fight over customers.

“Come with me, I have more designs,” they announce once you show any interest in the items they display.

If you fall prey of their tricks, they will reap from you. Meanwhile, the traders watch in cowed silence as the bewildered tourists are chaperoned through the narrow passages into the entrails of the market.

The colour of your skin, the language you speak or your mode of dress is the immediate determinant of the price quoted for any item.

Veronica Espejo, a tourist from Peru, says she prefers shopping in the Maasai markets located in different malls around the city.

“It is not a good experience and one would never go back there. I hate those drunk brokers who harass you. They flock to you right on arrival, talk too much and confuse you before selling you items at much higher prices,” she says.

Spending more

Ms Espejo says she ends up spending more or buying nothing whenever she goes to the Maasai market located at the Supreme Court parking lot, which operates on Saturdays and Sundays.

“I love the unique traditional products but I would rather buy from the mall markets where the traders are controlled,” she adds.

The Maasai market is known to be the country’s premier hub for cultural artefacts and curios crafted in contemporary styles.

Just like the community from which it acquired the name, the market is known for its cultural resilience to remain the sanctuary of culture for a conglomeration of more than 40 distinct communities.

Leah Aseleu, a Maasai woman from Ngong, goes to all the markets and she says since 2008, the business has been her only means of survival.

“I make traditional ornaments and sell them in the Maasai markets. I love the market at Nakumatt Junction because they stage traditional music and dances to attract more customers,” she says.

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