, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 10 – Several people were wounded and dozens of vehicles damaged when hawkers engaged police in running battles at the Muthurwa market in Nairobi on Friday morning.
Parts of Haile Selassie Avenue and Landhies Road were closed for several hours after the hawkers lit bonfires and barricaded sections of the roads to protest eviction from the market by city council askaris.
Police responded with teargas and even shot live bullets in the air to disperse the rioting hawkers who wanted to march to City Hall to have their concerns addressed.
“Why did the council come to demolish our kiosks at night? They destroyed our property and have not given us an alternative site to operate from,” Joshua Wanyiri, a hawker at the market said.
Others accused the police who had accompanied the council askaris of violating the new Constitution “because we were not given any notice and the police and council officers were just destroying our property yet that is not their work.”
Trouble started at 6 am when the hawkers arrived at the market only to find the makeshift structures they had illegally erected in the market demolished.
“The council did not even bother to wait for us so that we can remove out property. The entire stock I purchased yesterday (Thursday) has been destroyed,” Mercy Nderi, a second-hand clothes trader at the market said.
Mary Ng’ethe, a food vendor said she found all her maize and beans she intended to boil to make githeri spilt and her structure damaged.
Those affected were hawkers who were not formally allocated space at the market and instead chose to erect makeshift structures at available spaces in the market.
As a result, most of them have not been paying levies to the council on a daily basis while others collude with rogue council officials to evade paying the required fees.
“There is no way I am going to pay taxes to the council yet they have not allocated me space in the market, we were told to put up our own structures as we wait for the council to allocate us space,” one hawker claimed.
Council officials said they did not authorise anyone to erect structures in the market, but they did not offer an explanation why they left them operate for so long.
Tension started building up last week when council officials confiscated wares from some of the hawkers operating the illegal structures and warned them that they would be demolished.
“They were given adequate warning but they did not honour them. This morning the council officials came and demolished the structures and that is why the hawkers are protesting but we have contained the situation,” Nairobi Central deputy divisional Police Chief Thomas Atuti said.