Sabahi (Washington, DC)

20 August 2013

Kenya: Vendors in Garissa Ponder Options As Forceful Roadside Evictions Continue

Garissa — For four years, Mumina Ahmed Hassan operated a sidewalk eatery along Kismayo Road in the town of Garissa.

Her business brought in an average of more than 5,000 shillings ($57) a day, allowing her to employ seven people and send her children to school.

That all changed August 13th. As she was serving food to customers that day, bulldozers razed her eatery and dozens of other stalls operated by vendors alongside the road.

"As businesspeople, we tried to plead with the authorities to spare our livelihoods, but the security personnel who had accompanied the demolition squad fired teargas at us. It was chaos. Most of us did not salvage anything," Hassan told Sabahi.

Garissa County authorities said they were carrying out a month-old official order to demolish the make-shift structures built alongside the road, as they were creating potential hygiene and security problems.

Abdiwahab Ali Hassan, 44, who owned a garage on Kismayo Road for more than five years, said his business was demolished on August 13th.

Vehicles belonging to his customers also were damaged in the demolition, he said, adding that he was not aware of any notice to vacate the site. He said he chose that spot years ago because most of the prime sites were already occupied.

"I have incurred a loss of more than 1 million shillings ($11,400). The authorities say we are a security threat and a nuisance, but I do not understand how because we are eking a genuine living, though from a prohibited zone," he said.

Encroachments cause health, security hazards:

Garissa County Governor Nathif Jama Adam said the illegal buildings were razed after vendors ignored a one-month notice to re-locate their operations to officially designated spots in Garissa's Main Market and the Bus Park Market a kilometre away on Garissa's south side.

The Bus Park Market was constructed in 2003 to help ease congestion at the Main Market, but has never been occupied because vendors and public service vehicle operators occupied the side of Kismayo Road, Adam told Sabahi.

Businesses that continue to operate on sidewalks will be impounded and their owners prosecuted, he said.

Kismayo Road is an important route to the rest of Kenya's north-eastern region and the Horn of Africa. "It is an international road whose encroachment by business structures made it an eyesore," Adam said.

"The measures we have taken to an extent are unfavourable to those whose businesses have been affected, but if we are to address law and order, the structures have to give way," he said, adding that the illegally built structures are also blocking businesses that are in full compliance with the law.

The planned razing of 1,000 illegal roadside stalls in total will continue until the end of August, said Mohamed Shale, head of Garissa County's Directorate of Urban Planning and Development.

"Even as we want to promote economic development, law and order must be followed," he said.

Shale said food vendors on the sidewalks are unhygienic because of dust and engine fumes and because they block drains. The two markets designated for use by vendors, however, are equipped with proper infrastructure, adequate water and sanitation, Shale said.

Garissa County Commissioner Rashid Khator said the structures slated for demolition also pose security problems because they block access of security forces and create places for criminals to operate.

"At any given time they provide criminals -- especially the al-Shabaab group -- a perfect hideout to attack," he told Sabahi. "Kismayo Road is crucial because our security personnel use it more often during patrols or en route to the Kenya-Somalia border."

The road was the site of an attack last November in which three soldiers were shot dead as they were replacing a flat tyre on their vehicle. It was also discovered that remote-controlled roadside bombs had been planted there, Khator said.

The killings on Kismayo Road led to a rampage by soldiers in Garissa, during which Main Market was torched.

Illegal vendors also endanger the safety of pedestrians, Khator said. Because their stalls take up so much room on the sidewalk, pedestrians must walk in the road next to passing cars, he said.

Fatuma Adow Mohammed, 43, a camel milk trader at the Main Market, said she supported the removal of vendors from Kismayo Road.

"We are happy because the street businesses prevented customers from coming to the market to buy from us," she told Sabahi.

But Garissa resident Yussuf Mohammed said he would miss the convenience. "The vendors saved me the time of walking to the market. But now we are forced to walk for a kilometre to the bus station, which is tiresome, especially when the sun is hot," he told Sabahi.

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