Mau Mau market: Where landlords and tenants struggle to stay afloat


Adrian Dero collects rent from just three tenants. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Landlords in Busia’s Mau Mau Market and its environs have for years faced fluid fortunes.

Unlike the average landlord elsewhere who counts on having rent for 12 months in a year, those in Mau Mau delta rarely get rent for 10 months.

Sandwiched between River Yala to the south, River Nzoia on the north and Lake Victoria to the west in the flood-prone Budalang’i Sub-county, it is never a question of whether it will flood in the market, but when, and all that the landlords can do is flee to higher ground and monitor the situation.      

“From April last year, nature has been a beast. Lake Victoria flooded, swallowing up all my rental houses. The water has subsided but most of the houses and shops in Mau Mau, including mine, remain submerged,” says Adrian Okello Dero.

“We have been out of business for 14 months now,” he says.

Dero, a former chief in the area, built two shops and 27 single-room houses in 1998 that were fully occupied for a monthly rent of between Sh1,000 and Sh3,000 before the floods.

Today, he collects rent from just three tenants since the rest were displaced “by the angry floods”. 

The floods marooned the entire Mau Mau Market in Bunyala, displacing at least 1,800 households around it. Red Cross estimates some 7,000 households whose lives and livelihoods are directly impacted by weather and climate-related risks were affected in Budalang’i Sub-county.

But until last year, the floods had not been as severe.

“I’ve never seen anything like this (flood) as a landlord. Whenever it floods, it does so for approximately two months where tenants walk out and return when the waters subside. This time the floods have refused to go. We hear this happened in the 1960s and even so the loss was not huge,” he says.

The floods marooned the entire Mau Mau Market in Bunyala, displacing at least 1,800 households around it. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Lake Victoria Basin Commission attributes the floods to “extraordinarily heavy rains” which pounded Budalang’i starting April 2019 to early last year.

The commission says the rains pushed Lake Victoria’s water level up to a record 44 feet high, breaking a previous record set in 1964.

Dero, who had moved to higher grounds alongside his tenants, returned early this year after the waters receded but could only occupy three houses as 24 others are still underwater.

And unlike before, the man in his late 50s and his three tenants will have to do without electricity since supply to the entire Bunyala was cut off following the floods.

A group of landlords including Henry Mudondo, Livingstone Were and Geoffrey Wanjala who own several stalls at the market are also praying for nature to be lenient to them.

“Experts tell us that waters from the lake overflowed five kilometres from the banks and just a kilometre has receded. That means we could as well wait for another three or so years to get rent,” says Wanjala, adding that previously “our longest wait had been two months”.

Wanjala says he acquired a business loan which he has no means to repay.

Another landlord, Antony Nasiema, has decided to relocate to Port Victoria after losing a fortune in rent and fuel business.

Nasiema, who has been running two pump stations and renting out five houses for shop business in Mau Mau, gave up on waiting for the floods to recede after they marooned his shops and adulterated his fuel.

Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industry Busia Vice-Chairman Sylvanus Mbogo has called on the county government to stop collecting land rates from the affected traders. 

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