This bizarre fabricated arc welding machine is the unique collaboration between jua kali and mitumba. Jua kali literally means hot sun in Kiswahili, and refers to the informal small traders who work outdoors in the sun fabricating mostly work metal and wood items, fixing cars and other household items. Unable to afford new tools they fabricate their own out of locally available materials. Mitumba refers to the second hand western clothing sold on the streets of many African cities. The arc welder uses stolen scrap and second hand wires that are coated for insulation using strips of cloth torn from unsellable mitumba clothes. This is then wound into the welding machine coils.
I’d gone to Limuru to get a welder for a job on a dairy where I met James Mutahi. He is a typical jua kali wrought iron artisan who operates on the sidewalk outside his street workshop using his own home made tools. I’ve seen jua kali home made arc welding machines before but usually they are housed in a protective box. To save money James dispensed with the casing revealing the guts of his arc welder.
James was making security grill for a window. There’s a huge demand for arc welding in Limuru especially for gates and window bars which are essential in the high risk security zones of Nairobi and other urban centers. Nairobi’s security is the result of the collaboration between mitumba and jua kali!
The picture speaks volumes about the Jua-Kali sector in Kenya– cost saving is paramount whilst safety is overlooked hence no housing box – look for welding goggles, fire extinguisher and other safety gear.
(This submission is from Dominic Wanjihia)