When Kisumu County Government closed Kibuye market a month ago, the mission was to reduce congestion and the accompanying risk of coronavirus infections.
However, the objectives of the closure fly in the face of the sordid state of the new site picked for wholesale traders shut out of Kibuye.
If Kibuye was a coronavirus time bomb, the new site in a minefield.
Last month, Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o ordered the closure of all open-air markets in what he said was one way of reducing the risk of coronavirus.
Traders in Kibuye were the most affected, as the market which sits on 12 acres is the largest in the region, serving at least 20,000 people every market day. Some traders were moved to markets within Kisumu’s estates, while others folded up their businesses after failing to get a place.
Last week, the governor offered two acres adjacent to Moi Stadium as an alternative place for traders affected by Kibuye market’s closure. But the new site has since become another crowded field, perhaps even more crowded than Kibuye.
A visit by The Standard revealed business as usual, as traders and customers jammed the field in total disregard for social distancing, regarded as key in stopping the spread of the virus.
Traders have between 6am and 1pm to do their trade at the new market, which has contributed to the scramble for space.
“At Kibuye market, we had a whole day to sell our goods, but now the time is limited and every trader and customer has to fight for space to buy or sell within the short period,” said Joy Auma, a tomato seller.
Although the new site’s three entry points have been fitted with water tanks for anyone accessing the market to wash their hands, the congestion inside the market makes even the best of handwashing futile.
In the middle of the heat generated by overcrowding and the direct sun, many traders and customers find it hard to keep their masks on.
Many only wear them while getting into the market and quickly pull them down once inside the small space jammed with humanity and farm produce.
“There is no shade here. This is an open field and the direct sun makes the grounds burn; wearing a mask throughout is too uncomfortable,” said one trader.
Both customers and traders say Kibuye was better and safer, and that the new site might just be a coronavirus time bomb.
“Kibuye was big, people would access the areas they want and leave, as opposed to this ground which is too small and we are all expected to fit in within this short period,” says Marcy Atieno, one of the new market’s customers.
On the fringes of the new market, site looms another health disaster - Kachok dumpsite - the main waste disposal site for the entire lakeside city.
Waste disposal trucks roar through the market to dump solid waste adjacent to the new ground.
The stench from the dumpsite wafts through the market, mixing with that of sweating bodies and farm produce.
Fresh food vendors now fear that the site’s proximity to the dumpsite poses a greater health risk than coronavirus.
“The stench from the dumpsite is chocking, and the street children milling around scavenging and roaming through the market makes the situation graver,” says another trader.
There are no toilet facilities at the new site, and traders, customers and transport service providers share the few available ones inside Moi Stadium. County Director of Communication Aloyce Ager yesterday admitted that overcrowding was becoming a major challenge at the new market site.
According to Mr Ager, all the traders operating at Kibuye market were allocated spaces within other markets in the estates, and that the new site near Moi Stadium was only allocated to wholesalers.
“Since Kibuye had a wholesale section and there was no available space to relocate them, we decided to give them space at the stadium where they would bring their wares and sell to retailers within some limited time. The retailers would then move to the designated markets,” said Ager.
But the retailers locked out of Kibuye will have none of this. They too descended on the new market site, making it difficult to tell who is a wholesaler and who is not.
Scramble for space
According to Ager, many retailers have since abandoned their new spaces in estate markets and joined the scramble for space at the new stadium site, leading to overwhelming congestion.
“The notion among our traders that they have to follow customers is the biggest challenge. They do not believe that they can be stationed at a particular market and clients will go to them. They think they have to go to the open spaces to follow the clients,” he said.
Ager said the county has deployed enforcement officers to ensure adherence to anti-coronavirus regulations and that only wholesalers operate from the new market.