Green Stories

Mali kwa Mali: Kenya’s waste management culture

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The climate change conversation has shifted in the last decade from a European and Asian problem to one that involves all of earth’s inhabitants.

The push towards a greener earth, however, has been dominated particularly by the West on what should be done and how it should be done, making it appear a Western ideal.

However, centering on the 3Rs of waste management, which are reduce, reuse and recycle, we can trace how Kenyans had inculcated these ideals in their lives, even before it became a popular campaign.

Mali -kwa-mali

If you grew up in the city, probably your first interaction with recycling happened outside your home every Saturday.

Once you heard the clinking sound of the bicycle bell and a man shouting, ‘mali kwa mali’ you knew to bring out any used bottles and old newspapers.

Exchanged for some money, or traded with something else the mali-kwa-mali man had, it was a way to sort out what could be used again rather than thrown in the trash.

It also created employment for these men as they saw a gap in the market and filled it.

Sadly, you can rarely spot a mali-kwa-mali man nowadays; they are as rare as the Black Panther.


We also have the infamous Akala sandals, which originated from Maasai herders in the 70s and 80s when they couldn’t find any shoes that could withstand the harsh terrain while herding their cattle.

Using old used tyres, the original Akala sandals were bulky and not suitable for everyday wear.

With time they evolved, and are now considered mainstream, with people from all walks of life adorning the shoes.

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These two are great examples that in our own way, we can deal with climate change and make the necessary changes.

If anything, our solutions to combating climate change must be sustainable and cater to our dynamic way of life as Kenyans.

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