• The traders could not believe what had befallen them
• They could only take away the rubble that remained of their premises
Hundreds of traders have been evicted from Lwang'ni beach to pave the way for the Sh3 billion expansion of Kisumu port.
The move has struck a blow to many residents, travellers and tourists, who, for decades, have known the place as their best fish-eating spot in the lakeside city. Many customers have been taking their fresh fish meals as they enjoy the gentle breezes blown through the open restaurants.
Tuesday night, however, marked the end of fish trade on the beach. Bulldozers descended on structures and traders were left counting losses. The remaining structures were to be wrecked on Wednesday night. The Kenya Highways Authority is building a road in the area.
On Wednesday, the traders could not believe what had befallen them. They had owed every penny they earned in revenue to the beach. It was total confusion. A notice had been given by the Kenya Railways Authority. And they had to comply. The disgruntled traders could only take away the rubble that remained of their premises.
The port will be commissioned early next month. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his counterparts Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Felix Tshisekedi (DRC), Magufuli (Tanzania) and Rwanda's Paul Kagame are expected at the event.
The traders said they were given a one-month notice that began on July 12, only for the Kisumu county government to give another three-hour notice on Tuesday evening.
But Governor's Press Unit director Aloice Ager said the county is fully behind the lakefront development and Kisumu port revamp and they had to act to ensure everything is achieved within set timelines.
He told the Star they were looking for alternative locations for the businesses.
The traders deplored the treatment. Lakeside Ngege Self Help Group assistant chairman Hezekiah Okello said they had been paying land rates and daily taxes to the county government and questioned why the demolition was done before the notice expired on August 12.
"We asked them to allow us to remove our things yesterday [Tuesday], but they didn't heed our calls. Our property has been destroyed and many people have been rendered jobless and could turn to crime to earn a living," he said.
The traders alleged that they had a meeting with the Lake Region Economic Bloc CEO Abala Wanga, who told them the planned project would only affect some part of the beach.
"However, this was not the case because around 10pm on Tuesday, bulldozers came and descended on our structures," Mary Awino said.
Awino said she had been in the area for 10 years and now had nowhere to go.
“I get my family daily bread from this place and pay my children's fees. I wonder where we will start now that we are stranded," she said.
Beatrice Awour said this is the second time her hotel was demolished.
"I don't know whether it is because of a road that is passing here or the lakefront improvement," she said, adding that many of them secured loans to develop their eateries and it was unfair to evict them without giving an alternative location.
A letter by the Kenya Railways was addressed to all tenants with temporary occupation licence and short lease along Akamba line road and on Lwangni beach.
The licences state that "either party may terminate this agreement/term of lease at any time during tenancy" by giving a one-month notice in writing.
“You are, therefore, given a one-month notice to vacate your business out of Kenya Railways land to pave the way for revitalisation, expansion and operation of Kisumu Port. Failure to comply will compel the corporation to forcibly evict and take over possession. Kenya Railways will not bear any liability for any loss and damage,” acting managing director Philip Mainga said.
The traders were not convinced. They questioned why the demolition had to be carried out before the notice elapsed.
(Edited by F'Orieny)