The dark side of Korogocho market: How gangs drove locals to shop at CBD

[PHOTO: John Muchucha]

Korogocho market is a stone throw away from his residence, but Fredrick Sewe would rather buy his sukuma wiki or pair of mutumba trousers elsewhere than risk setting foot in the open-air market.

The electrician considers parts of Korogocho unsafe. Sewe traces his phobia to 2004 when a neighbour was attacked and stabbed by a gang demanding money.

The victim had gone to pick some groceries and was returning to his house when he was waylaid along a footbridge and seriously injured.

Following the assault, Sewe, a resident of Civil Servants estate, vowed never to go to Korogocho, which is hardly a kilometre away from where he stays.

For a man who liked evening and weekend walks to the Korogocho market, Sewe stopped the routine, fearing what befell his neighbour would happen to him too. His preferred shopping destination became the Central Business District (CBD) to date.

“I would rather do my shopping in the CBD or elsewhere I feel is safe than risk my life going to Korogocho market,” he says.

Many residents living around Korogocho market feel the same. It is not peculiar for dwellers in Kariobangi, Dandora, Mowlem or Baba Dogo to go to Eastleigh or Gikomba for shopping, and avoid Korogocho despite the market being a stone throw away.

The market specialises in fresh produce and second-hand clothes. But some of its would-be customers shun it because of insecurity. For a long time, criminal cartels have ruled  the market, which is a source of employment and income to more than 1,000 traders.

[Photo: Dennish Ochieng]

It is among the oldest in the city, existing from the days when Eastlands was largely a vacant outskirt, save for few scattered buildings here and there.

The Korogocho Market Traders Association has since 1985 managed the market which is said to be a haven for land speculators, criminal gangs and extortion cartels.

For now, association officials can sit pretty, having secured a title deed for the market effectively keeping off land speculators who have persistently tried to grab the land.  

With one battle won after many years of pleading with the government to give them the title, chairman Patrick Mwangi Maina’s next headache is how to make the market safe, clean and attractive.

He suspects the recent fire incident that occurred a day after a similar incident at Gikomba market is the work of enemies.

“According to our own investigations, the fire was started by people with vested interests here,” says Mwangi.

Insecurity at the market is linked to entrenched cartels. Even county revenue collection officers deployed there are always wary of their security, according to Jeremiah Karani, vice chairman, Trade, Tourism and Co-operatives committee.

[Photo: Jonah Onyango]

“We have been going around inspecting our markets, and insecurity at Korogocho is a problem. There are cartels there hampering smooth collection of cess by our personnel,” says Karani.

Mwangi says the situation has improved following the collaboration of local police officers who conduct frequent patrols.

“Yes, in the past we have had the problem of cartels, which was solved when we co-opted the police for protection,” notes Mwangi.

The insecurity challenge manifests in other in other open-air markets like New Ngara, Kiamaiko, City Stadium, Kahawa, Mutindwa, City Park, Toi, Kangemi, Kawangware, Gikomba, Kayole Soweto, Woodley and Dandora terminus where cartels reign supremacy.

This became apparent during a micro and small enterprise leaders meeting held at Nyayo House on February 23, 2018, when participants cited a number of challenges they said hindered growth of the markets as customers kept away.

Apart from insecurity, the leaders raised concerns of lack of water, electricity, sufficient parking space and toilets at most of the inaccessible markets where heaps of garbage remained uncollected as criminals prowled unchallenged.

Meeting under the auspices of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), the entrepreneurs implored City Hall officials present to secure the markets by issuing title deeds in order to keep off land speculators and grabbers.

During the just ended 2017/2018 financial year, markets generated about Sh378 million against a target of Sh457 million. The shortfall was attributed to customer dissatisfaction, laxity at trading spaces, and failure to enforce fair trading practices and protect consumers.

[Photo: Dennish Ochieng]

The Nyayo House meeting led by KNCC Nairobi chapter chairman John Ngari and Kenya National Hawkers Association (KENAHA) Nairobi branch secretary general Wilson Mbugua decried lack of screening facilities at the markets for diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and cholera.

There was a proposal to have traders have badges and put on dust coats with City Hall being challenged to clear garbage, which is an eyesore to customers who, as a result, preferred shopping in supermarkets and from street hawkers.

“The county government officials promised to look into some of the issues we raised especially on security and health. But two months down the line, we haven’t seen any tangible change in the markets,” says Mbugua.