Thika town traders yesterday blocked Kenyatta Highway in protest against an influx of hawkers.
They carried twigs and placards and chanted "Kaba Kabogo [Better Kabogo]”, disrupting business and transport. After about four hours, police lobbed teargas canisters and dispersed them.
The traders from Thika town CBD, Mukiriti and Moi Markets accused the Kiambu government for failing to drive the hawkers out of town.
They said during former Governor William Kabogo’s tenure the town was well managed and traders had a conducive working environment.
They said incumbent Ferdinand Waititu’s administration has allowed the hawkers to infiltrate the town.
The traders accused the hawkers of selling goods at throwaway prices and driving down prices. As a result most of them have been driven out of business while others make less or no sales, they said.
“Since the governor allowed the hawkers to sell their wares in town, we have been making less or no returns from our businesses yet we are the ones who pay rates and licences and rent too," Moi Market chairman Nicholas Muiruri said.
"The hawkers have taken all our customers and we won’t take this lying down. We will evict them from the town ourselves.”
The traders accused county askaris of collecting bribes from the hawkers weekly. “We know money has been changing hands and that’s why it’s taking ages to eject the hawkers from town, but enough is enough now. If the enforcement officers won’t do their work we will assume it,” Philip Kioi said.
But Thika region administrator Christopher Wanjau said askaris have been conducting crackdowns relentlessly for the last seven months.
“It’s ironical that 80 per cent of these traders in Mukiriti market are the same people who hawk in town at night,” he said.
Wanjau said the administration is building a hawkers' market at Mukiriti
The hawkers said they will carry on with their business as they have Waititu's permission.
They flooded the town during last year’s campaign season when all politicians welcomed them to secure their support.
“The last time there was this turmoil our governor told us to be operating from 6pm until he gets a place to settle us. No one else will convince us otherwise,” a hawker who requested anonymity said.
The traders said the hawkers come from as far as Kayole, Roysambu, Githurai and parts of Murang’a county.
Last year during another standoff between traders and hawkers, Waititu said, “I know some came from outside because they saw a market here. Hawkers who have been in this town for long are very few, they are also known. Now that the campaigns are over, let everybody go back to where they came from."
Moi Market traders asked the hawkers to join as there are about 1,000 unoccupied stalls.