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How Nakuru kiosk cartels are fleecing traders

BUSINESS NEWS
By Karanja Njoroge and Vincent Mabatuk | January 31st 2016
Business stalls funded by Nakuru East CDF kitty along Gusii road in Nakuru town. The allocation of the stalls has been infiltrated by criminal cartels .PHOTO: KIPSANG JOSEPH

KENYA: Acquiring trading sheds and stalls in Nakuru town is not for the fainthearted. Powerful and treacherous cartels — with political links - have taken control of the lockable kiosks and stalls within the Central Business District — fleecing innocent traders.

The cartel run by individuals linked to outlawed gangs sells space acquired for free at between Sh70,000 and Sh400,000 at the Sh46 million market which is yet to be completed.

Last year, Governor Kinuthia Mbugua evicted hundreds of hawkers from the streets with a promise of being relocated to newly constructed markets.

But the relocation was hijacked by criminal networks. The group has since been selling trading spaces to the hawkers. The stalls have been constructed at Maasai Market, Section 58, Oginga Odinga Street, Langa Langa and Free area raising fears the town could end up as one big informal urban centre.

A recent attempt to introduce more stalls at the crowded market situated in the town’s major street, Kenyatta Avenue, met stiff resistance from residents opposed to proliferation of unplanned structures.
Though county authorities insist trading spaces are free for displaced hawkers, investigations by The Standard on Sunday revealed dashed hopes of deserving traders who failed to get space at Nasher Market.
“I paid Sh70,000 to get this space from the owner, a matatu driver owns two others spaces in this market which were supposed to have been given to hawkers,” a trader said.

Owners of the sheds have been renting them out for Sh3,000 a month and those who fail to pay are promptly kicked out by a ruthless gang.

Samson Njagi was one of the lucky traders who got a stall constructed through the CDF kitty along Mburu Gichua Road without paying a cent. But he bought another one last year at Sh120,000 and is now disposing it at Sh200,000.

Along the same street, Fredrick Okembo’s stall is being leased at Sh96,000 for a year. Like his counterpart, Okembo is lucky that he owns several stores and is also selling space at the wholesale market.

Along Wakamba Lane, hundreds of stalls that the county had pumped in more than Sh3 million remain abandoned as criminals have vandalised them.

William Ngetich, one of the 500 traders shortlisted as a beneficiary claimed powerful cartels tasked to construct the stalls had fled after pocketing millions of shillings, stalling the project. Some residents have accused Biashara Ward MCA Stephen Kuria of making a fortune by selling space to desperate traders. But Kuria dismisses the allegations, saying the exercise was above board as it was conducted in conjunction with the market’s chairmen.

“If there is any benefit that I might have accrued from the relocation it is political and not financial,” the MCA said.

Kuria said there is little the county government or market leaders can do to dissuade the traders from selling or leasing the stalls once they have been allocated.

Nakuru Street Traders and Hawkers Association Chairman Simon ole Nasieku claimed the county deliberately failed to issue allocation cards to the members so that cartels can ride roughshod on the traders.

“The cartels are so powerful having connections with local politicians. This explains why some individuals got more than one trading stall while genuine hawkers got none,” a hawker said.

Nakuru has been grappling with an influx of hawkers and street traders since 2008 when hundreds of post-election violence victims sought refuge in the town.

But Nakuru East MP David Gikaria said the haphazard eviction of hawkers had created a vacuum which the cartels used to exploit desperate street traders.

“The county had set aside Sh145 million to set up a hawker’s complex but whether the money was used to build the market still remains a mystery. Hawkers are not the real beneficiaries of Nasher Square,” said the MP. Ownership of the land where the market is built and which served as a matatu stage before it was acquired to house the hawkers is also shrouded in mystery with some private developers claiming it.

County Physical Planning Executive Rachel Maina defended the county government against claims of turning the town’s main streets and estates into an eyesore through unregulated structures.

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