Hundreds of miraa traders in Mandera town are counting loses after a mysterious fire burned their market on Monday night.
Following the fire, the traders claimed that there is a plot by Governor Ali Roba to kick them out of the market that has served them for decades.
“This is a very open incident planned by the county government so that we can leave this market for them to take over and build other structures,” lamented Mr Mohamed Salat Mohamed.
According Mr Mohamed, the fire began at about 8:30pm and the security officers present blocked them from entering the market to put it off.
“When I came with others to fight the fire, we found police officers at the main entrance and they blocked us from getting in as stalls burnt,” he said.
He said a local police reservist in charge of the area told them the county fire fighting vehicle had broken down and that no assistance was available from the county government.
“This fire was started by the county government because they have always wanted us out of this market to another unknown area but we shall stay,” said Mr Mohamed.
The Mandera County government has since erected a perimeter wall around the market.
The county government was to convert the market into a recreation centre but the miraa traders have opposed the move.
The burnt market hosts about 1,200 traders most selling miraa, clothing and foodstuffs.
Ms Abdia Billow Kuliye, 86, said she lost her stock of miraa worth Sh12,000.
“It is so painful to lose my stock at my old age just because someone is interested in this land that we have been on for many years,” a tearful Ms Kuliye said.
Mandera County Commissioner Kutswa Olaka, who visited the market, said investigations have been launched but quickly denied involvement of the police in razing the market.
“We shall soon be knowing why and how this market depended on by many locals burnt through investigation that have been launched,” he said, acknowledging that it was not the first time the market was catching fire.
Mr Kutswa could not reveal the findings of investigations into previous fire incidents at the market but promised to reach out to the county government for a solution.
It is the third time the market is burning since the county government declared its interest to relocate traders and construct a recreational centre.
Mr Mohamed Tawane, a local trader, urged the county government to improve on disaster response.
“The county government must have better response team for such incidents to avoid losses in future,” he said.
When reached by phone, Mandera Trade minister Abdiaziz Maad denied the county government’s involvement in the incident.
“That market remains a miraa market and we don’t have plans of relocating it after the traders opposed our proposal,” he said.
He said the county government supports the traders by improving the status of the market and that to secure it, a perimeter wall was built.
“We are building toilets and constructing sheds at the market as our commitment in assisting the traders,” he said.
He said one of the fire engines in Mandera is faulty while the other inherited from the defunct town council was overwhelmed.
Mr Abdinur Maalim, the county secretary, said Governor Roba’s administration is a responsible one and could not be involved in burning a market.
“We are not party to that fire incident and we are a responsible county government that cannot burn public property,” he said.