Jane Thuku sits beside what’s left of her stall in Mutindwa market, pondering her next move. Three days have elapsed since county officers stormed the market and reduced illegal structures to rubble, saying they posed a security threat.
SONKO ON THE SPOT
Criminals are said to hide in such structures at night and ambush passers-by. This makes it difficult for county officers and the police to distinguish between the criminals and the traders.
But the irony is that the demolitions are raising the unemployment rate, which critics fear could increase crime as the jobless turn to the same vice the county is fighting.
Jane, 50, was among 500 traders who lost their businesses in demolitions on July 19 along Sonko Road and Buruburu shopping centre.
It was the latest in a series of demolitions since January that have left more than 2,000 traders jobless. The demolitions target structures built on road reserves, public utilities, riparian lands or next to schools. Often, these structures are the stalls of small traders.
Governor Mike Sonko’s manifesto listed job creation as a priority, linking high unemployment to a rise in crime. And before he became governor, he often defended small traders during evictions.
But City Hall director of operations Peter Mbaya maintains that the demolitions will continue. Mbaya has been in charge of almost all the demolitions.
“Law and order must be maintained in the county. People will come to appreciate the outcome of this exercise soon,” Mbaya said, urging Nairobi residents to respect and follow the law.
He said no demolitions take place without notification. “The first notice we give is about three months or even a month before the actual date. The last one is usually given 24 hours before the exercise,” he said.
And Nairobi county chief security officer Tito Kilonzi faulted the traders for breaking building regulations. “For anyone to construct a building or structure, they must comply with the procedures and regulations of the county government. There are places one can construct and others you cannot,” Kilonzi said.
He warned traders who have rebuilt their structures, saying they risk having them demolished again. “We care for the wananchi but at the same time, we have a responsibility to bring law and order in the city,” Kilonzi said.
In Mutindwa, traders are trying to recover their wares and building materials (iron sheets and wooden poles). The market has been in existence for more than two decades, offering second-hand clothes, shoes, vegetables, fruits and cereals.
Benson Kabugi, a father of three, had been a cereal trader at the market since 2013. “I have been able to take educate my children because of the work I used to do. I had already established my customers and I was contented with my business,” he said.
“As you see me standing here, I am still confused on where I shall start my business again.”
Sharon Mueni, who had just opened a second-hand clothes store in January, was still in tears as she narrated to the Star the encounter she had that Thursday morning.
She was in hospital, where she had taken her two-year-old daughter. “I was called at around 6.15am by a good customer of mine, who had noticed some irregularities in the market by spotting many traders that morning,” Mueni said.
“I am lucky enough my sister was with me in the hospital because I had to leave my daughter to come remove my stocks before the demolition process started.”
However, she is among the traders who have no idea what their next step will be to continue earning a living.
The traders admitted to receiving eviction notices, with the latest having been sent the night before the demolitions happened. The lucky ones arrived at the market very early in the morning to remove their commodities from the stores.
Most of the traders were breadwinners in their families. Many are hopeless as they lack vocational training. Their daily bread came from the little earnings they got from selling commodities. They feel stranded now that their business structures are ruined.
“I am a mother of four and the little I used to get from selling cereals went to my children’s school fees. I am now unemployed after six years at Mutindwa market,” trader Njoki Waithera said.
Fellow trader Hassan Ali, 20, had been saving up for college next year, but now fears he’ll miss out. He’d been plying his trade at Donholm roundabout.
“I finished high school in 2016, and since then, I have been selling soccer shoes. My parents cannot fully afford fees for college, and I decided to help them raise money. But now my dreams have been shattered after the demolitions,” he said.
SONKO ON THE SPOT
With more than 2,000 structures demolished, there are fears that the now unemployed traders, especially the youth, may seek other options to get income, resorting to crime or drug abuse.
In his manifesto, Sonko clearly outlined how unemployment and crime go hand in hand. “With high unemployment comes the desperate drift into crime. For those who don’t drift into crime, many are left without legal protection and are constantly harassed and even killed in crime-related incidents,” the manifesto reads.
Some residents from Fedha and Buruburu estates, where some of the demolitions have recently taken place, defended the traders. They said somehow, the structures and traders brought security around the residential homes.
Geoffrey Kibengo, a trader at Buruburu shopping centre, said: “The traders used to be on the outlook and they always reported to the watchmen whenever they spotted an unfamiliar person walking in and out of the estate.”
Jeremiah Munene, a Fedha resident, said: “They were always on the lookout and property could not be moved anyhow. Some of them were very alert. With them gone, insecurity might just increase.”
Some county leaders, including Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, have blamed Governor Sonko over the ongoing demolitions, stating the exercise is “inhumane”.
Sakaja called upon Sonko to be considerate. He said the demolitions have left many residents hopeless as they watched their only source of livelihood being pulled down.
Embakasi East MP Paul Ongili, alias Babu Owino, condemned the demolitions that left at least 300 people in his constituency jobless.
He defended the traders, saying some had taken loans to open their businesses and now the kiosks have been demolished.
“You do not oppress the same people who elected you. This is wrong,” Babu said.
Makadara MP George Aladwa had earlier said he had no say in the ongoing demolitions at Mutindwa market, as the traders had already been informed with notices and some structures were along the fence of Bidii Primary School.
The MP, however, criticised the flattening of structures at Buruburu shopping centre.
“The Buruburu shopping centre has been there, even when Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was the Makadara MP. They have not built on any road reserve and are not near any school. So why have the stalls been demolished?” Aladwa asked.
Utawala MCA Patrick Karani said the demolitions will not strengthen security, as the county government alleged.
“The structures contributed to keeping criminals away because the traders were always on the lookout. I wonder how kiosk owners become a threat to security,” he said.
The leaders appealed to Sonko to intervene before more people become jobless.