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How traders risk their lives in Nyanza’s dangerous markets


KISUMU, KENYA: As the sun sets over the Lake Victoria shoreline, Kisumu’s Central Business District goes down with it.
At about 8pm the lakeside town’s commercial hub grinds to a halt as supermarkets situated in the town Centre close doors.
But as you move away towards the main bus park, there is a sudden burst of life. What looks like a big open air market suddenly breathes life into the town’s 115-year old multi-million economy.
A beehive of activities thrives in this roadside market as freshly cooked meals, fresh produce, used clothes and shoes, jewelry and other household wares trade for money.
But danger lurks in the darkness because the open air market both outside the former Oile market and the bus park, takes nearly a third of the main road. The traders sit on the tarmac, selling their wares unperturbed by the dangers awaiting them. Planners describe it as a Time Bomb.
The story is the same at Daraja Mbili open air market in Kisii and Oyugis in Homa Bay where hundreds of traders risk their lives daily by selling their wares right on the busy roads.
Daraja Mbili is one huge mess, especially on Market days with traders seated on loosely hanging embankments with buyers meandering their ways in between the many matatus.
In Oyugis, the main street passing through the township also doubles as a market with all sorts of traders seated with half of their bodies on the tarmac. With hundreds of boda bod taxis, competing for the same space, danger lurks everywhere.
An official of the Oyugis Traders Association, Martin Ouko, said the situation in the town had been worsened by the closure of the main bus terminus for renovations.
“The situation in Oyugis is bad because all those who had stalls at the bus park have now moved to the road. Many of these people are alive by the grace of God,” said Ouko.
In Kisumu’s makeshift market, the many matatus and the three –wheeler Tuk Tuks often swerve dangerously as their drivers try to avoid hitting the traders.
“I dont care much. I have nowhere to sell my fish, so I will just put them here. Let the drivers hit me if they like. What will my three children eat if I don’t risk my life for them,” said a middle aged woman fish monger whom only gave her name as “Nyar Kendu” (the daughter of Kendu).
Nyar Kendu sits on the edge of the tarmac on the busy street overlooking the Oile market every day from 6 pm as she waits for buyers returning from work.
She has escaped narrowly in the past three months whenever a vehicle veered off the road near the roundabout at the main bus park.
Adding to the chaos are the town service Matatus and the tuk tuk tricycles looking to cash in on the large population retiring home after work in the town.
In blatant disregard of the traffic rules, several Tuk tuks dangerously make wrong turns at the roundabout, stop in the middle of the road to pick or drop passengers.
About two weeks ago, a woman was knocked and injured by a matatu, less than a week after a street boy was crashed dead by a trailer negotiating the roundabout.
Most of the traders here claim they are the victims of the September 2014 reclamation of the Oile Park, where an illegal market had thrived for close to a decade.
Bob Omondi sells mitumba shoes at the roadside market. He says the spot is perfect for business.
“I set up at about 5pm when people are leaving work, so many of them buy on impulse. The business is good,” he says.
He says he moved to the spot from Kibuye because “I saw an opportunity to make a killing from the big footfall.”
He says the county collects taxes from him so he sees nothing wrong with it.
Caren Achieng’ sells fried fish at the illegal market which lasts between 4pm and 830pm. She is alive to the danger she puts herself in but says she does it because it presents unfair competition to her business at the Jubilee Market, barely 20 metres away.
“No one will see good fish here and walk into the market when they can just pick it here on their way home,” she says, “I do it because others are already here, why should I be the one to lose?”
Achieng’ says she is one of the traders who were evicted from the park which traders had turned into a market before the city management flattened stalls after promising to relocate them in September 2014.
“The city management squeezed us into the Jubilee market, some people, like me, were allocated space in the back lanes. But customers were not wading into the backlines, so people started edging closer to the road to tap on the footfall,” she explains.
She says the county had soon after the eviction promised to secure land to temporarily house them as the five markets were upgrade to accommodate more traders.
The Standard learnt that the city management had opened talks with the Kenya Railways (KR) Corporation over a parcel of land to the CBD and was closing in on the deal when some members of the county assembly asked the traders to stay put.
During the period over which the traders and all other hawkers were to use the temporary market, the county government under the Sh4 billion Kisumu Urban Project upgraded several markets at the cost of Sh770 million to absorb all the traders as part of efforts to sanitise small trade.
The project would see Kibuye, one of East Africa’s largest open air markets upgraded to ultramodern standards with the capacity of 13, 000 traders. Jubilee market would absorb 4, 000 more as Otonglo, Manyatta and other small markets are also earmarked for facelift and expansion.
As these ambitious dreams remain dreams, more and more traders continue abandoning markets established even in the estates to bring the commodities dangerously closer to the people.
So chaotic is the scene that even hardware like nails, chains, wires and construction equipment are sold inches from the ever-busy but narrow avenues despite the existence of proper structures having been established meters away.

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