Traders at the Garissa open-air market popularly known as Suuq Mugdi, are counting losses running in millions of shillings after a fire razed the entire market.
The market that houses more than 5,000 small-scale traders specialising in clothing, groceries, electronics, eateries, butchers and wholesalers was reduced to ashes in an inferno that started in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
It is not clear what ignited the fire that started at 2am even as some of the victims speculated on whether the fire was an act of arson or a result of an electric fault.
According to the traders and residents, this is the fifth time the market has burnt in recent years.
When the press visited the market, desperate traders were busy trying to salvage the situation which was already out of control.
Fatuma Roble, a trader who specialises in groceries, was in tears while narrating how she lost all her stock in the fire.
“I don’t have words to explain the loss I have incurred. It is painful. All my stock that includes groceries and cereals amounting to millions of shillings has been reduced to ashes. I don’t know where to start because this business was my lifeline,” Fatuma said.
“The most annoying and regrettable thing is that these fires keep recurring. The authorities, both the national and county governments, seem not to be keen to end this problem,” she added.
Abdi Hassan, another trader who runs an electronics shop, blamed the county government for not responding in time to put out the fire.
“We have a county government that is very unresponsive to the needs of its people. Here is a case where a market that is within the town was burning and yet no single fire engine showed up. Honestly, we pay taxes to the same county and someone must be held responsible for this loss,” Hassan said.
According to a source who spoke in confidence, all the fire engines have been grounded for a while due to mechanical problems that are yet to be fixed.
Hassan Sheikh Ali a resident of Garissa said that it was unfortunate that the market has a history of burning in every election year and called on the authorities to thoroughly investigate the root cause of the fires.
Former Garissa governor Nathif Jama who was among the first leaders to visit the market in the morning regretted the turn of events blaming it on the current county administration that was doing nothing to put the fire out.
“It is regrettable that all the firefighting machines that were all operating when I left office have all been grounded,” Jama pointed.
“This is a market that feeds hundreds of thousands of families who earn a living by selling their goods mostly small scale traders and just when they were struggling to recover from the effects of Covid-19 and drought then comes this fire,” he added.
Jama called on the police to carry thorough investigations to ascertain what really caused the fire.
Speaking to KNA by phone, Garissa County Commissioner Boaz Cheruitich cautioned residents against speculating on the matter, urging them to wait for police to complete investigations.
“I have directed all relevant authorities to investigate the cause of the fire and bring any culprit to book,” Cherutich said.
By Erick Kyalo