KISUMU, KENYA: A phone vendor Mary Atieno and Grace Anyango knew their mobile phone shop was about to be demolished when they got a call at breakfast from the city authorities to vacate their premises.
Later on a Tuesday evening last year, the city bulldozers arrived to flatten everything in the name of makeshift structures on the streets of Kisumu. Theirs was among them.
Located in a park near Akamba bus station, the phone vendors were part of a huddle of small shops and cafes that formed over 200 makeshift shopping centres declared illegal by the city and razed down.
''I used to earn about Sh30,000 and times even Sh46,000 a month with this business. And now we’re unemployed and don’t know what to do,” claimed Atieno.
In her early 40's, the businesswoman rues her past three months out of business wondering where to go and or turn to as the city says it is just trying to smarten up the streets and enforce planning rules.
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But she is not alone. Anyango, John Omollo, Joseph Odhiambo, Mary Oketch, Caren Aloo, too, echoed similar woes and cries.
At least 36 traders were driven out of Lwang’ni Beach and a hundred others ejected from a stretch bordering the Railway quarters near the decades old Kisumu port and within the city shopping centre.
The traders were temporary lease tenants on Kenya Railways land most of which was illegally allotted to individuals to allow for remodeling of the city ahead of the November Africities summit in Kisumu.
Despite all odds, now their tales and woes are set to end as governor Anyang Nyong'o embarks on a resettling plan of all traders affected to stem the growing feuds and discontent among the traders.
Kisumu has now constructed a 10,000 small unit traders Centre complete with modern social amenities. They are also erecting new modern market stalls and replacing the makeshift structures.
Nyong’o disclosed the trading Centre will eventually be the permanent home for all small and informal traders recently displaced from the Central Business District (CBD), and rail lines.
''The new units will take care of traders displaced by the recent demolitions to pave way for the new Kisumu port and other infrastructural developments on course,' Nyong'o disclosed.
And the new market will in the immediate time absorb among others the several traders from Lwangni Beach and Akamba line traders around the CBD triangle.
''We have constructed a further 1000 units under phase two of the project once we are done with the construction of the 10,000 units,’’ revealed Nyong'o.
The vision is to have small traders who also grow in their trade.
According to City Manager Abala Wanga, they had received Sh250 million from World Bank to improve the city's aesthetic value and attract more investors.
Wanga explained that some of the makeshift structures were a breeding ground for crime and unsanitary conditions in the new modern lakeside city and had to be demolished.
The City authorities deny they are targeting small businesses and have vowed to continue with such demolitions undeterred because it aims at good even as some people appeared raged over the plans.
One group under the banner of Diaspora and Small Communities in Kisumu had issued a notice to hold a peaceful demo against the city authorities last Friday, but police banned and denied them license.
The anti-demolitions were led by Milton Obote and another emerged supporting the exercise led by market Mlimani ward Seth Kanga, Arthur Ocholla, Boniface Ouma, Harrison Okello, and Steve Omondi.
While Obote voiced concern on the ongoing demolitions of business structures saying those affected must be given a new place to operate, the rival group dismissed his theory.
They want those affected by the demolitions given priority in the allocation of stalls at the Sh450 Uhuru Business Park that is near completion and the new container stalls being erected in the CBD triangle.
Obote argued that they are also fully behind Governor Nyong’o modernisation of Kisumu City, but wants affected traders given new stalls to bring them back to active economic production.
''We are only against the destruction of livelihoods by the county government without giving alternative space for the affected traders. This is our worry. But rebuilding Kisumu is a good idea," he said.
Speaking to the press in Kisumu, he also disclosed they are against an increase in land rates which was done without any public participation.
Some critics allege that the city ignored repeated court orders calling a halt to the demolition plans.
And the city authorities claim they no longer need court orders following recent law changes, pushed through at the city, allowing them to demolish buildings near transport hubs and in other public areas.
Officials say their targets aren’t the shopkeepers but the landlords who rent illegal space to them.'' Yet by doing so, it is the shopkeepers who get hurt, ''said a Kiosk vendor, Ken Ouma.
But the Governor is keen on ambitious beautification schemes to widen pavements, build pedestrian zones and construct cycle paths to turn Kisumu into a “model Europe” capital.
Explaining his policy to the press, he said the city had approved “more modern” uniform designs for kiosks and trading pavilions, which would be built by the city and rented out through auctions.
Some owners of the demolished shops are, however cynical. They think Nyong'o wants to turn people into 'slaves.'
This is why Obote and ilk had planned a demo which police banned on Friday. The demo was meant to protest against the demolitions and to compel the city to provide traders with an optional trade space.
Kisumu Central Sub County Police Commander Pater Kattam said they denied the traders the demo license.