TRAGEDY

Shame as state fails to protect Gikomba traders from fires

For the umpteenth time, a section the biggest open-air market in East Africa was gutted by fire.

In Summary

• The market has become prone to frequent fires, despite government promising an end to the infernos.

• In 2018, the market experienced three fire cases, which led President Uhuru Kenyatta to call for investigations into the incident and for culprits to be brought to book.

What is left after a section of Gikomba market was razed in a Monday 1am FIRE incident/WILFRED NYANGARESI
What is left after a section of Gikomba market was razed in a Monday 1am FIRE incident/WILFRED NYANGARESI

Even after a presidential order to end Gikomba market fires, it keeps going up in flames.

For the umpteenth time, a section the biggest open-air market in East Africa was gutted by fire, exposing the government that has previously said it would put an end to the fires. 

The market has become prone to frequent fires, despite government promising an end to the infernos.

In 2018, the market experienced three fire cases, which led President Uhuru Kenyatta to call for investigations into the incident and for culprits to be brought to book.

In June that year, 15 people died and at least 60 injured when a section of the market dealing with timber and clothes was burnt.

Despite the President's directive, there has never been a concluded investigation nor has there been anyone arrested and charged.

With most fires breaking out at night, it is difficult to identify the culprits, with the blame shifted to electrical faults, nearby houses and at times traders themselves who claim petrol is used to lit the fires.

Another fire destroyed the market in May and October 2014 and  earlier in March 2012.

It had been said that loan defaulters at times set shops on fire and tell banks they lost the property, while businessmen burn items to claim insurance.

It had also been speculated that traders themselves burn the stalls to evict tenants and hike rent.

In 2015, a fire broke out twice in the market in May and June. In 2017, the market caught fire twice, on October 6 and September 10.

In 2018, there were three fire cases, which Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan claimed were planned to evict some traders.

Interior PS Karanja Kibicho said several people in the market appeared to have known of the arson in advance.

On April 10, 2019, more than 2,000 structures were razed down as a section of the market was gutted by fire.

Last year in February, fire broke out in the mitumba section.

After another mysterious fire damaged the market in August this year, the government gave  the contractor installing security cameras at the market a week to complete the work to help end frequent fires.

What is left after a section of Gikomba market was razed in a Monday 1am FIRE incident/WILFRED NYANGARESI
What is left after a section of Gikomba market was razed in a Monday 1am FIRE incident/WILFRED NYANGARESI

This was after Kibicho, NMS director general Mohammed Badi and MP Hassan visited the section that had been razed by the inferno.

Two months later on October 19, another mysterious fire razed down several stalls in the market and the same incident re-occurred on Monday morning.

Despite the investigations  order,  no report has ever been publicly released on the matter. It end up as a political tool.

Whenever a tragedy occurs politicians are quick to rush to the scene but never are they heard afterwards.

Gikomba has been the source of livelihood to many Kenyans for close to 40 years

From food vendors, carpenters, secondhand clothes sellers, farm products, you can almost find all types of commodities.

However, most of them have been victims of arsonists.

The traders are forced to start from scratch with no donations from the government, going back to savings or borrowing to restart their businesses to sustain their families.

Others lose hope and  leave the trading business, ending up jobless.

Some traders told the Star that majority of them take loans to buy their stocks and suffer double loss due to infernos.

"[For] the stock I lost on Monday, I had taken a Sh20,000 loan ... The profit I was to get, which had planned to use as school fees, in now gone. Now, where do I start?"trader Curtis Njenga said. 

"In the August, fire I lost property worth Sh30,000 and I had just started to recover.. Our government has abandoned us and left us to suffer," trader Josephine Kerubo said.

Other traders claimed said their counterparts who want bigger trading spaces might be behind the fires.

They alleged that some of the traders identify prime parts of the markets that are mostly occupied by mitumba sellers and burn them.

This will in return force some of them to move out and the culprits move in and occupy large spaces.

Modern storey Gikomba Market on November 3, 201
Modern storey Gikomba Market on November 3, 201
Image: HANDOUT

In July 2018 the Nairobi and the national government announced the construction of  a new five-storey Gikomba market to end all the fire incidences.

At a cost of Sh3 billion, the market will have at least 525 stalls across all five floors.

Phase I was completed last year with a section of traders already occupying it.

Last week, Housing and Urban Planning PS Charles Hinga said Phase II was underway with the foundation already being laid.

Despite the constructions, we are yet to see If the modern markets will bring an end to the annual Gikomba fire?