The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Owino Traders Must Not Rush


On Wednesday morning, fire gutted Park Yard market next to Owino and Nakivubo stadium for the third time in recent years.

When this market went up in flames in August 2011, The Observer published an editorial (below), which today reads like the mantra, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Fire broke out again at Park Yard market, Owino, on Sunday morning, destroying traders' property worth billions. A similar fire broke out at the same market two years ago, causing comparable damage.

After the market was gutted in 2009, there were calls from some quarters for the traders not to rush into restoration of their stalls, to avoid future fires, but these calls were ignored, and look what has happened.

The traders are now making the same mistake by hurrying to rebuild the market using the same materials that have twice let them down. It is understandable that they need to earn a living fast, but it is not wise to hastily erect structures that could go up in flames within a short time.

The ideal thing would be for the affected traders to be a little patient and, instead, exert pressure on the relevant authorities to restore the market and use fire resistant materials this time, as well as leave enough spaces for fire trucks and other emergency services.

Meanwhile, politicians should desist from politicising this unfortunate incident. A number of them, on both sides of the political spectrum, seem to be using the inferno as an opportunity to advance their different political agendas, which is not only wrong but also insensitive.

Of course this is not helped by our police, who are quick to declare that they are investigating but never really get to the bottom of such incidents to give Ugandans adequate answers. How come, for instance, that for two years the police has not told us whether the 2009 fire was arson or an accident?

And they seem to have a peculiar weakness when fire is involved. As of today, all the prominent fire incidents in Uganda, including the Kanungu cult inferno of 2000, the Kasubi royal tombs, and the Budo primary school fire, alongside numerous other school fires, have remained a mystery.

Surely the police need to enhance their investigative capabilities for such tragedies because the best way to prevent them from re-occurring is to establish what caused them in the first place.

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