Of Mama Mbogas and their Strange Source of Wealth
That mama mbogas are a hardworking lot is no contention. Some can invade markets as early as 3a.m to get the best of fresh products for their roadside stalls or to supply where they have landed lucrative contracts. A story is told of a banker who was surprised by the amount of money a thriving mama mboga used to deposit each other week. On questioning her closely, it is said he realized there was much money to be made out there than sitting in an expansively furnished office donning a suit and a tie daily - that he too ventured into green grocery business.
However, a close look at some of mama mboga run sheds returns a different narrative. Not all can fit the bill of the above highlighted example. Some of the makeshift sheds can be said to be fronts for illegal activities than genuine businesses. It behooves one's mind to learn, for example, that a mama mboga runs a green grocery business netting a daily profit of less than Sh300 but lives in a rental unit charging a monthly fee of Sh7, 000!
And such a woman, or lady, lives by herself with a kid or two to cater for having separated with baba watoto ages ago.
In rural areas, for example, many mama mbogas are active from 4p.m., when the county council officials, colloquially known as kanjus, have called it a day. While some closes as early as 8p.m., it surprises to see others, especially young women, sticking in their vibandas to as late as 10p.m. And they need not worry about their security, for they have boda boda operators or young lotharios keeping them company, and who in most cases will take them (ladies) to their places and end up in bed together.
And there is more than they are selling, or willing to admit to, when questioned.
When they take off those aprons marking them as businesspeople, a different picture emerges. It shocks to see some dressed like for a club than for a ramshackle roadside kibanda.
One boda boda operator said these young women could be giving an otherwise legit business a bad name as not all mama mbogas can conform to their deviant behaviours. He says a particular lady falling to a man's seductive wiles will tell him something like 'nunua nyama twende tule sapa (buy meat we go my place for supper)'. Supper here is a double entendre term where the poor fellow will, over the time, be milked financially dry until another victim is identified.
A lady observed that if you asked such suspicious mama mbogas to disclose the source of their success, they will not be forthright. "All they do is put up a shed and be seen to be doing an honest business but they will not tell you about those sponsors bankrolling them," she said.
In case such a woman is dealing with non-perishable goods which are not fast moving, she wonders how she manages to get along with life given the tough economic conditions. "We know many in rural areas have no disposable incomes to spare, but how do such women manage to survive in a tough economic climate when men venturing in similar businesses don't make it?" she posed.
But a young mama mboga waded in and rubbished some of the claims made against her fellow women as farfetched, though she admitted it is hard to verify some of them.
"I cannot speak for others, but it is wrong to term us as women of easy virtues," she said, adding that what she does is for the sake of her two children, as she is a single mother, and cannot offer herself to men even in the direst of situations.
But pressed to explain how her fellow mama mbogas, some with shoulder to shoulder sheds offering similar items survives, she could not offer a plausible answer.
"Suppose these have husbands, even absentee ones, or are simply augmenting their family incomes," she said.
However, many are unconvinced with her answer. One lady claimed to know of a divorced young woman who started a roadside shed selling potato chips but rose to construct rental units within a year of operations. It is hard to tell where her 'windfall' came from, as such kind of business doesn't command high returns in a cutthroat competitive field.