Nairobi’s Gikomba is by all accounts one of East Africa’s largest open-air markets. There, you will find everything from clothes and shoes to tools and cutlery. It provides a living for countless traders and their families.
The market, however, exists under the cloud of a constant threat. In the past six years, at least fifteen firès have been reported at Gikomba.
In October and November 2021, at least three firès were reported – on October 19, November 8 and November 26. News of a fire at Gikomba has become so common that it’s no longer considered headline news.
With each fire, traders literally watch the source of their livelihoods go up in smoke. In August, over 900 traders from the market sued the Nairobi County Government over the endless blazes – highlighting the devastating effect of the firès on their ability to earn a living.
They want Ksh20 billion as compensation for all the firès. Most of the firès have been pegged as arsón attácks, and after each incidént police announce that investigations will be undertaken – a promise that usually ends at that.
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President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 ordered investigations to get to the bottom of the firès, but not much has been forthcoming on that front.
Depending on who you ask, those to blame for the firès are either powerful, connected land-grabbers eyeing parcels in the expansive, busy area, traders settling business beefs or tenants in houses owned by the county government.
At the end of the day, however, the problem has gone on unchecked for far too long.
Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho in August stated that a contractor would install cameras at the market. The government’s plans, however, are clearer in budget statements tabled by Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani.
The State wants to install security cameras at the market and establish a call centre as a means of undertaking real time surveillance and identifying potential culprits. A borehole is also to be drilled at Gikomba and a 100,000-litre steel tank installed to ensure access to water during emergencies.
“In the past decade, the Gikomba market has reported cases of firè outbrèaks that have constantly been linked to árson attácks as opposed to natural occurrences,” Yattani notes in the 2022 Budget Policy Statement (BPS).
But as the traders wait for the cameras, they’ll be wondering why exactly its proving so challenging to identify those behind the never-ending firès.