NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 7 – The fact that traders at Gikomba mean business has never been contested.
Approximately 3.9 kilometres from the Central Business District is the business hub that not only serves Kenya but the East African region.
Every minute, hundreds of people are flock in or out for one purpose – to do business.
But choose any route to access the expansive market and your fate is sealed – confusion reigns.
A worrying trend that has seen days turn to years as policy makers promise to reverse it by building a modern market which is accessible and proper amenities, but has remained just that – a failed promise.
A source of living for thousands of families in a country where unemployment has hit worrying levels, the market is struggling from perennial challenges that range from lack of proper planning, basic amenities and frequent fires that have not only left property worth millions of shillings destroyed but also claimed lives.
“It is a day at a time in Gikomba. We are not assured of even the next minute,” Maureen Atieno, a fish vendor at the market told Capital News.
It is a fear that has become part of life for them, but this has not killed their working spirit.
A fire incident at the market on Wednesday night caught many off-guard, but luckily, they say it was contained on time before it spread to other areas.
This came less than 24 hours after a fire burnt down tens of houses in an informal settlement in Kangemi, along Waiyaki way.
“It would have been yet another opportunity for politicians to shed their crocodile tears as they make even more tears,” Joseph Kisilu, a cloth vendor at the market said.
In June 2018, at least 15 people died after a dawn fire burnt Kwa-Mbao area, a section of the market.
Five of those who died succumbed to injuries upon arrival at the Kenyatta National Hospital, among them four children, while another died at Mama Lucy Hospital. More than 70 others sustained injuries.
READ: 15 People dead in Gikomba market fire
This, traders said, was just an incident in a series of similar cases but this time, lives had been lost.
– The probe whose outcome was never known –
On October 6, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed that a probe be carried out to establish the cause of fire in the market.
He issued the directive after a fire incident led to the loss of property worth millions of shillings.
Since then, Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti has not publicly released the outcome of the probe.
The Directorate had been issued with such directives in the past, but nothing changed not even a suspect was arrested.
Then, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko said preliminary investigations pointed out on foul play.
“This should not be made to look normal,” Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja said.
Even as police probe the Wednesday night fire incident, traders at the market wonders what happened to others. Were they just mere political statements?
“The government has made many promises in the past. It is just the other day they started building a small market that will only serve a few people,” Kisilu said.
Atieno, a fish vendor at the market for more than five years said it was more than an accident.
“There is a little bit of politics, business rivalry and of course poor planning,” she said.
Sylvester Odhiambo runs an M-PESA shop at the market says no measures have been put in place to deter similar incidents in the future.
In fact, he said, “this is part of our life. There is no a fire station in the market, the roads are still congested, no one has been arrested for these incidents…nothing has happened.”
-What is the true story of Gikomba?-
Gikomba’s story is anchored on the past rather than the future.
At the smoky fish market, they said the future is dim as it is full of uncertainty in the 38 hectare open air market.
The discussion is rife within the market as it is on social media.
“GIKOMBA FIRE! March 2012, March 2014, October 2014, June 2015, October 2017, June 2018 and February 2019. They want to grab land and put up shopping complexes like they did with Eastleigh public market. This FIRE is NEVER accidental #GikombaFire,” @AmedoShair posted on Twitter Wednesday.
“Cartels are so powerful they are the “backbone” of our economy (sic) from energy to communication, transport to business,” @Mwasir said.
“This may not be anything to do with a planned grabbing, but it seems purely the result or consequences of poor physical planning of our city and the historical market. We must take planning seriously,” @Romtekconstruct posted on Twitter.
So, is it accident, cartels, land grabbers or is Gikomba market a victim of poor planning?