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September 26, 2018

Trash and illegal trade mar Busia buffer zone

Heaps of uncollected garbage at the Busia security buffer zone./GILBERT OCHIENG
Heaps of uncollected garbage at the Busia security buffer zone./GILBERT OCHIENG

The Busia security buffer zone was created by the Kenyan and Ugandan governments to help monitor and maintain security at the entry point. However, the Kenyan side of the zone has been turned into a hotspot for illegal trade that leaves the area choking in trash.

The zone emerged when the national government, through the Lands ministry, notified homeowners in the area of its intention to create a buffer between the two countries. It asked them to buy land elsewhere after being compensated.

The displaced families received their compensation in 1991 and vacated the land to pave way for the buffer zone to be built. However, subsequent developments have raised concerns.

Residents are questioning why the national and county governments have remained silent as prominent individuals erect illegal structures at the buffer zone. They fear the grabbers are doing so with the blessings of key personalities in governments.

Also worrying is the foul smell from the heaps of rotting uncollected garbage strewn all over, which has become a big health risk to the residents.

 

BEEHIVE OF ACTIVITIES

Among the illegal structures are churches, hotels and car parking bays. Busia Business Owners Association chairman Stephen Obala said the structures have been cropping up for a long time, and senior government figures have remained silent about it, ignoring persistent cries and complaints from the public.

The association has said despite several protest demos the past few weeks against the grabbing of the no man’s land, the authorities have not taken any action.

“This land had been set aside by the two states to serve as a security buffer zone, but surprisingly, the zone has been turned into a beehive of business activities by a few untouchable individuals, and the county authority has failed to act,” Obala said.

The buffer zone has also been invaded by grabbers and charcoal traders. They take advantage of the ban on tree cutting by the Kenyan government for six months to engage in large-scale importation of charcoal from Uganda.

This has forced the association to appeal to Interior CS Fred Matiangi to intervene and wipe out illegal business activities at the buffer zone, saying they are likely to pose a security threat.

The buffer zone being a sensitive area, construction of tall structures is disallowed. Growing of low crops, such as beans and potatoes, is, however, exempted.

Residents urge the customs and immigration departments at the border point to seal all illegal entry points to ensure no illegal immigrant gets through.

They also want security agencies at the border point to intensify patrols and thoroughly screen people moving in and out of the two border countries. This would curtail movement through illegal entry points, popularly known as “panya routes”.

Some structures built by the former Busia county council are still standing. These, residents say, pose a security threat and should be demolished with immediate effect, as criminal gangs could use them as hideouts.

 

KIOSKS TARGETED

Obala said a few days ago, his association received a notice from the county government that their kiosks will be demolished, purportedly to keep the town clean.

This prompted him to move to court as a matter of urgency to get an injunction. He said the association’s members, mostly small-scale traders who depend on the kiosks for their daily bread, have always been on the receiving end.

What the association’s members are eagerly waiting to see is whether a recent assurance by a top national government official that illegal structures at the security buffer zone would be demolished.

The assurance was made in May after the Lake Region Economic Bloc’s 2nd summit forum, held at a hotel in Busia town.

”Should the assurance fail to be honoured, we will carry on with peaceful demos, regardless of how long it will take to ensure all illegal structures at the Busia security buffer zone are pulled down so that it can serve its intended purpose,” Obala said.

“We also would like to appeal to our leaders to support us in our quest to ensure all illegal structures at the Busia security buffer zone are demolished once and for all.”

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