Traders at Gikomba market are divided over the government’s plan to construct a modern block to end frequent fires and congestion.
While others welcome the initiative as a timely move that will end the problems they have been encountering over the years, others have expressed fear.
They claim it is a plan to kick them out of their business premises.
The reactions come just two days after the county government announced a plan to construct a five-storey building at Gikomba.
Trader Tom Gikendi, who has been selling second-hand clothes at the country’s biggest open-air market since 1997, says that the modern structure will end the traders’ constant fear of evictions and disruption of business as is the case currently.
“There is fear in this market because people are threatened with eviction. That this land belongs to other people. With this kind of fear and fires we witness every other day, we cannot be at peace,” Gikendi said.
Janet Atieno, a fish-monger at the market, said they have incurred huge losses in the past due to fires gutting down their businesses and expressed optimism that the modern block will be a solution to the perennial problem.
“Some of us do not have security or back-up plan. If you buy items today and then they get burnt by people you don’t know, then it takes you back to zero,” she said.
Governor Mike Sonko last Friday said his administration was partnering with the national government to build the structure that will have 522 stalls.
The block will have two lifts, back-up generators, a refrigerator and a sewer system. Lights and CCTV cameras will be installed both in and outside the market. It will also be installed with firefighting equipment to end the perennial disasters often experienced at Gikomba.
But Winfred Mwangi, a second-hand shoe seller, argued that the government has not engaged them on the new plan and claimed it was a ploy to kick them out.
“For me, I think we should be left to work the way we have been doing. If we are removed from here today, which assurance do we have that we will get stalls in the new market. What will be the size of the stall and what will we be asked to pay, and where will we work as construction continues?” Mwangi posed.
Mwangi said the government should first document all the traders to establish the exact number of those that will be affected by the construction.
Gikomba has borne the brunt of fires with the latest incident leading to the death of 17 people on June 15. Several others were injured and property destroyed.
Though the government has never established the root cause of the infernos, the traders and people living around the market have claimed the fires have been instigated by business rivalries.