01/03/2013 07:44 GMT | Updated 01/05/2013 06:12 BST

Kenyan Street Vendors Will Vote for Peace

The horror of the previous ballots seems to have left a superstition in the country - that the word 'election' cannot be used without being followed within the next 30 seconds by 'peace'.

Kenyans are set to vote in a new president on Monday (4 March), five years after post-election violence swept across the country, leaving over 1,000 people dead and estimates of 600,000 people displaced.

The country is awash with political campaigning - posters stuck everywhere, giant billboards, people decked out in party colours and constant noise, as yet another loud hailer attached to a vehicle amplifies campaign messages.

Behind this fanfare, many of the millions of street vendors in the country have been counting down the days with a mix of anticipation, fear and dread.

Last time hundreds of thousands of street vendors literally lost everything in the madness of post-election violence. Many had to flee their homes, leaving all their possessions, never to return.

Since the chaos of running from her burning village, Agnes Muraya, 62, has never seen three of her sons. To make matters worse, her husband Peter, who was a truck driver, fell and hurt his leg. In the appalling conditions of camps for internally displaced people, which were their home for the next two years, his leg rapidly became infected and had to be amputated, putting him permanently out of work.

Both of them now have to survive on the K150 (£1.15) she makes a day selling tea at a Nakuru bus stand in the Rift Valley.

Regina Nyambura, 50, lost all her stock of children's clothes. Without insurance or any protection, she needed years to rebuild her business.

Samson Kimonge, 43, a water and juice vendor to thirsty commuters and travellers at the ferry linking Mombasa to the mainland beach resorts, had all his coolers and storage facilities broken. With no savings, or alternative means to make a living, he was forced to sell nearly everything he owned to restart his stall.

The violence of the last election has imprinted a survivor condition, where events are defined as those which happened before or later. For many vendors later is synonymous with squeezed profits and increased competition from more people being compelled to trade.

But, since the 2007 polls, Kenya has undergone considerable political reforms, such as a new constitution. Huge strides have come in recognising the right of street vendors to trade, meaning they will no longer suffer harassment and discrimination.

War on Want's partner, the Kenya National Alliance of Street Vendors and Informal Traders, just scored a massive victory in the passing of the Micro and Small Enterprises Bill, following almost a decade-long drive. This law will promote, regulate and develop the sector.

Among other substantial changes promised to vendors are that areas in all cities will be set aside and developed for them, as well as representation in government decisions.

These major gains require a stable, peaceful Kenya to be implemented and for the changes to take effect. Vendors are now being allowed to trade freely without harassment. Yet, ironically, their earnings are even lower, as consumers hold on to their money in fear of violence.

The horror of the previous ballots seems to have left a superstition in the country - that the word 'election' cannot be used without being followed within the next 30 seconds by 'peace'. While opinion research shows the two leading political parties neck and neck, for street vendors to feel these reforms the result of the election must first be peace.