Traders hit hard in rebirth of Kisumu after demolitions

A bulldozer demolises Winmart market in Kisumu on August 14. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]
Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city is staring at sluggish economic growth and worsening unemployment following demolition of small scale business premises.

Business analysts now say the lakeside city, in the news because of the Sh3 billion port expansion, may take longer to recover following massive disruption of business.

Hundreds of middle level and small scale business owners lost their source of livelihood after their business premises were demolished to recover land grabbed from the Kenya Railways Corporation.

It has emerged that uncertainty on the date of opening of the port, lack of alternative areas of operation for traders, budget stalemate as well as stalled modernisation of key markets could further affect growth of the economy.

When the rebirth of Kisumu started about a year ago, many were optimistic that the developments would offer them a new lifeline.

Still several businesses across the town have been on the recovery path after struggling to overcome the devastating effects of the 2017 elections.

But demolitions have sent traders back to the drawing board.

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“Kisumu’s economy has been battered. The expansion of the port is a good project but the authorities have used it to bring Kisumu’s struggling business sector to its knees,” said Kenneth K’Ochiel, a retired banker.

He added: “After the ruthless evictions, Kisumu now has large swathes of idle land, but with hundreds of thousands of unemployed population. To add insult to injury, no leader from Nyanza is talking about this crisis.”

Mr K’Ochiel wants Nyanza leaders to break their silence and question the economic sense behind the demolitions and what Kenya Railways and Kisumu County Government plan to do with the huge tracts of idle land once dotted with business premises.

“It is only in Kisumu where the government would rather have large of tracts of undeveloped land and ignore the plight of its jobless and hungry people,” he added.

The traders complained that they cannot afford to rent space at the malls within the town.

Many are waiting to see how the government restore projects that have been marred by controversy including plans to modernize markets which have since stalled. And to add to the traders pain, the county government has send evacuation notices of business premises across town.

Josephine Akinyi, a hotelier who has been forced to operate on a dusty corridor told Sunday Standard that they have lost customers and are only waiting for the port to open.

“We do not know when the port will begin operations o that we can get customers but we are only banking on hope,” said Akinyi. A spot check across the city established that majority of the traders whose premises were brought down are yet to find alternative space.

A section of the traders see a bleak future of the informal and formal sectors as the county government continues to drag its feet on constructing more stalls.

Challenges

“The government has killed its own people. Kisumu has zero industries and the informal sector has been the biggest employer yet it is the one that has been targeted by authorities,” claimed Winnie Okeyo, a trader who was lost her investment at Lwang’ni beach.

With the modernisation of three main markets uncertain, questions are being asked how the county government will resettle the affected traders.

Kibuye, Otonglo and Jubilee markets which were expected to accommodate tens of traders have been dogged by controversy.

Interestingly, the budget for this financial year is in limbo after Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o rejected the amendments made by the county assembly.

This means the county government cannot provide alternative places for the traders to operate.

Traders who spoke to Sunday Standard accused the county government of taking advantage of the port rebirth to frustrate business in Kisumu.

“The fact that they did not give the traders notice and have not factored in construction of stalls in the budget is enough to tell you the fate of this economy in the next one year,” said Brian Okello, a trader.

Mohamed Kafa, a trader whose stall was also brought down along Akamba line said he will have to reconsider investing in the lakeside city again.

“I lost property during protests in 2017 after the General Election and just when I started making a comeback, my stall was brought down,” said Kafa.

Residents are wondering whether the jobs that have been projected to be created by the expansion of the port will surpass the ones that have been destroyed by the demolitions.

At Swan centre which is due for demolition, traders decried huge losses in lost business opportunities as well cost of moving premises.

By the time of going to the press, a number of businesses including The Standard Group Kisumu office had moved premises while others remained locked.

The Standard Group has now moved to Murbs building on first floor.

Kisumu Residents Voice Association chairperson, Audi Ogada questioned why authorities did not to do the demolition in phases to ensure smooth transition.

“We appreciate the expansion of the port but whatever the demolitions has done to the city will take time to recover. The demolitions have done a disservice to the people,” said Ogada.

Governor’s communication director Aloice Ager yesterday said the county was keen on identifying a new site before evicting the traders from town.

The stall owners are dealers in import first and second hand clothes, shoes, bags, accessories as well as those running eateries, salons and retail and furniture shops.

“We are fast tracking efforts towards getting the traders a new location because we are alive to the challenges facing small traders in the city right now,” he said.

Kisumu’s reorganisation ahead of the African Cities summit in November 2021 has seen hawkers evicted from the central business district to pave way for infrastructural improvement.

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