• Today, the market is chaotic and has since lost its former glory.
• Traders and customers have to on daily basis contend with the fears of disease outbreak due to poor waste disposal and lack of proper drainage.
It took eight good years to construct, thanks to conflicting interests by various government officials.
And by the time it was officially opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta on November 1, 2018, the now chaotic Karatina market in Nyeri county had gobbled up Sh475 million.
When it was being opened, the county government of Nyeri boasted that this was the second largest regional trading hub for wholesale and retail in East Africa, after Kongowea market in Mombasa County.
The county said the three–storey market located in Mathira East Sub County, would serve more than 2,000 traders. Though it was constructed by the national government, the market was subsequently handed over to the county government.
Today, the market is chaotic and has lost its former glory. Traders and customers have to on daily basis contend with the fears of disease outbreak due to poor waste disposal and lack of proper drainage. It lacks enough toilets. Traders say they are disadvantaged by virtue of their location.
They have accused the county government of failing to enforce products zoning. Two of the three floors have many unoccupied spaces after some vendors declined to take up stalls, citing unregulated business. Those on upper floors claim they sell similar commodities with those in open areas.
Already, traders have threatened to leave the market and look for a conducive area for doing business.
The two of the three floors that are unoccupied have been turned to a playing field by children.
According to Wachira Maina, a trader, they have not been realising any profits due to poor zoning issues.
Maina says people operating upstairs have been selling similar items with those at the open air area.
“We shall leave this place and join the rest downstairs so that we trade together. Lack of zoning has disadvantaged those of us trading upstairs as no customer is willing to scale the stairs to buy what is available downstairs at the open air area,” he says.
His sentiments are shared by Charles Njau who says people have already started leaving the market looking for better place for doing businesses.
Traders attribute the mass movement of people from the market to lack of business.
The history of the market dates back to 1938 when it started as a barter trade centre. It grew and became popular during the construction of Nairobi-Nanyuki Railway line.
By the time Kenya was becoming independent, the Karatina market had become extremely famous, and the fame sustained in the coming decades.
With its bulging number of traders, and high number of customers, the market’s upgrade was inevitable.
And following the concerns raised by the Nyeri leaders, the market was factored for upgrade under the Economic Stimulus Programme in 2009.
President Uhuru was then the Finance minister. It was commissioned by the then President Kibaki in 2010.
During the glamorous opening ceremony, the Nyeri county residents expressed joy over the project because it had finally materialised after a 10-year stall caused by wrangles. It was supposed to operate 24 hours a day, unlocking the region’s rich agriculture and business potential.
But the rains started beating it immediately the county took charge, according to Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina.
“The problems started right at the beginning, The stalls were not handed to bonafide Karatina traders, in fact the whole process ended being a big racket with spaces going to the highest bidder,” Maina told the Star during an interview on Thursday.
According to the Senator, though the establishment of the market was a very noble idea, the execution of the project, right from its design, was flawed.
“I remember very well how the then President Mwai Kibaki left his motorcade and he walked into the Katina open air market. This is after I complained to him of how the traders were suffering and the need to bring up a modern market that will boost the economy of not only Nyeri but entire central region,” recalled Maina.
The senator said too much selfish interests led to a poor design of the market with wrangles delaying its completion for eight years. “The design and construction was very poor. For instance it is a three storeyed building, no proper ramps, no proper ventilation,” said Maina.
According to him, useful space inside the market was left for parking. “Today, people who have no business or are not coming to do anything at the market come and park their vehicles whole day,” he said.
He also accused the county government of poor management and refusing to listen to the grievances raised by other leaders and traders.
“They are mostly interested in collecting fees from traders, the county has remained deaf no matter how much the people complain,” he added.
He said the market, which was supplying various agricultural products to different parts of the country and more so the Coast region, is a shell today.
“It was generating Sh1 billion every month, but all this is gone, there is no business and traders and farmers are crying. It is a threat not only to the people of Mathira and Nyeri but entire region,” said Maina.
As it is today, Maina explained, the market is a health hazard due to poor sanitation.
“There are only four toilets located on the ground floor, two for men and two for women. How do you do that for a market serving over a 1000 (people) at any given time?” Complained Maina.
To make matters worse, the Senator explained, the lavatories were fitted with sitting toilets, commonly known as the western-style toilets.
“Fixing sitting toilets in toilets at a rural area that is being used by a large number of members of the public is stupidity,” said the Senator.
He challenged the national government to move with speed and take charge of the market. “The county can take away the story building, in fact it has its own gate to this building, it can decide what it wants to do with it. The open spaces including where people are today leaving their cars all day long should be turned into a modern market, clean with enough toilets and well managed,” he added.
But according to the Nyeri County Commissioner David Kipkemei, the main problem of the market is not sanitation, but poor management.
Kipkemei admitted there were issues that needed to be addressed but said they had been blown out of proportion. He visited the facility on Tuesday accompanied by members of the County Development and Implementation Coordination Committee.
"From our initial findings, the challenges here are not as much as had been indicated,” Kipkemei.
He urged the county government to zone the market appropriately so every trader can enjoy an equal chance of doing business.
Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga has been on record saying that the county’s initial plans was to enforce zoning to ensure that specific items are sold at a specific area and wondered why that was not happening.
“That was our initial agreement that we are going to have beans on one flour, fruits on another floor and so on and we had even designed that,” he says.
On the issue of lack of enough toilets, Kahiga says there have been complains by people running the toilets that they (toilets) are too many to break even.
He said they have been saying that the number needs to be reduced so as to break even.
However the governor says he is willing to go there personally to address the challenges.