Maasai women turn to smartphones to sell beadwork

Koo Bon Wan (r), an administrator from Chung-Ang University with James Saitoti and other officials from the university during the Maa Youth Forum Clean-Up Exercise at Namanga town.Photo/File

By Abdu Hussein

Maasai women beadwork makers and hawkers in Kajiado County have embraced technology to market their products.

At Namanga border town, women who used to hawk their wares to tourists have had to change tactics, mainly because of the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For months, the government suspended human movement at Namanga one stop border point to curb the spread of the virus, which turned the normally busy town into a ghost town.

The restrictions, they say, resulted in dwindling fortunes to the point where they could not make even a single sale in a day.

But as they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining.

Instead of giving up, some of the women turned to technology, with the smart phone being the main tool for marketing.

The women, some with the help of their tech-savvy children, take photos of their products and post them online.

“My daughter takes photos of my products and posts them on the internet. Customers make enquiries, with some placing orders. It is a relief for us as the income is trickling back,” Sarah Kiria told County Press.

According to Kiria, the online business is more profitable than hawking with prices doubling or even trebling.

Some NGOs have been offering free training to some of the women on how to use smartphones to sell their products.

Lack of adequate education has, however, been barrier of communication between the sellers and the potential clients.

To address this problem, some of the women have enrolled in adult education classes.

Shortage of smart phones is another challenge. The women are calling on the county government to step in and extend a soft loan to enable them to acquire the gadgets.

“The county government should empower bead women to fully embrace technology. Most Maasai women eke a living from beads,” said Tipet Thomas, an ushanga trader.

The unreliable mobile network is another challenge prompting the traders to walk to urban centres to access the internet.

The women use locally available materials to make beadwork that is used to create accessories like necklaces, bracelets, pendants, anklets, belts, and sandals, as well as home décor and household tools.

They have formed self-help groups to widen the customers’ base.

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