Three years later: No justice for traders at Suq Mugdi

By: OSMAN MOHAMMED OSMAN

Hasna Adan, 47, had to take her children out of school. She valued education but her situation was such that she could no longer afford the fees to keep her children there.

Her main source of income had been burnt to the ground. Not by thieves or enemies, but by the very people appointed to protect her. She was now forced to prioritise her needs, and food and shelter came first.

“Horror of my life” is how she describes the sad ordeal. She woke up as usual, prepared her children for school before she left for work.

All was normal upon arrival at the Sur Mugdi Market. She opened her small iron-sheet walled shop and began to plan her day.

She was weighing a kilo of flour for her customer. This was her frequent client. On a normal day, she would attract a good number of customers and this day was no different.

Suddenly, sounds of gunshots and screams rent the air and she dropped to the ground with her weighing machines.

“I hurriedly hid my cash till e and closed the shop,” narrates Hasna remembering the immediate events of that day, “I then took shelter at a nearby restaurant.”

It was the November, 19, 2012.

Three KDF soldiers had just been shot dead at close range about a kilometer from Suq Mugdi (The Dark Market) which is situated at the heart of Garissa town. They were enroute to Somalia when they stopped to fix a flat tyre. It was alleged that the culprits of the incident made their way into the heavily populated market to seek refuge. This is where it all started.

The soldiers who have a camp situated at the town soon went to rescue their counterparts. Soon, a tug of war between the locals and security officers in the area started. Tires were burnt along the roads and gunshots heard in what the police described as a bid to “disperse the escalating crowds”.

SECURITY OPERATION

The back and forth led to the burning of the market which constitutes of over 1,000 traders and many of whom depended on the market for their livelihoods.

Hasna came the next morning to collect her good but was shocked to find smoke and ashes where her tiny store once stood.

“I nearly collapsed. I did not know how to face my children,” Hasna narrates. She is the sole breadwinner in a family of her nine children. Her capital worth Sh480,000 had gone up in smoke, leaving her with nothing.

The following months were probably the hardest for the 47 year old. She was about to celebrate her fourth anniversary at the market when her shop was razed to the ground.

. “I used to sell milk every morning in out village. It took me years to save enough to start this shop,” she adds.

Hasna was not the only one affected. Alasa Muhumed had a shop right next to Hasna’s at Suq Mugdi. .

On that fateful day, she had left to grab an early lunch when she happened upon people running in all directions. Traders scattered across the market in fear. They knew the authorities would retaliate after the incident.

She too suffered. All her goods went up in smoke. She still pays debts she took from friends to restart her business. “I never knew if I wuld get back on my feet,” she says.

Alasa had to literally beg her relatives and travel as afar as neighboring Mandera County to get funds to rebuild her business premises.

The mother of two stayed out of work for six months. She lost Sh550,000 in the fire

“This is my life,” she tells me as she points to clothes which she sells.

“No one ever apologised. It was only journalists vsisited frquently, but they soon vanished” she said.

For both of them, business has never been the same again.

“I used to get as much as Sh10,000 shillings a day before the attacks. Nowadays getting Sh1,000 is pure luck,” says Hasna.

She adds: “Majority of residents vacated the town. We have been left in limbo.”

The incident came at a height of security intolerance in the region. Somalia based Al Shabaab had made lives miserable in the region and a year before, Kenya Defense Forces had just entered Somalia to fight back the militia.

There had been several attacks on Kenyan security personnel in Garissa, all of which have been blamed on the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab. The assumption that the community sympathised with the attackers was the main reason for the backlash.

The act by the security forces was widely condemned. The National Assembly questioned on the military’s actions stating that it was a breach of the constitution.

In July that year, gunmen invaded a church in the region and killed 15 people. In September same year, the militants launched yet another attack — this time at the Kenya-Somalia boarder — killing two police officers.

The sequence of the attacks destabilised the once safe town causing a rift between civilians and military.

SAD DAY

Khalif Abdi an activist based in the town. He calls this incident as “completely inhuman” act by then government.

“Collective punishments by the authorities is highly regrettable. The mothers and children who suffered had nothing to do with the attacks which happened far away from the market,” says Khalif.

Ben Kimanzi, 34, had to take a loan to restart all over again. His losses amounted to about Sh200,000. Nothing was left.

“It was a sad day for my town,” says Kimanzi. The father of one was new to his marriage and had been working hard to sustain his young family.

“It felt like a curse. Imagine starting all over again from ground zero,” he says as he stands in front of his almost empty stall.

Others were forced to start new businesses in order to survive.

Bashir Ajaib, 70, is one.

“I had a large restaurant in the market. I had just employed workers to help me out. I lost all my investments and my employees lost their jobs,” says Bashir who owns a small stall selling foodstuffs just like Hasna.

The traders above represent just a fraction of the over 1,000 traders who lost their livelihoods. Lives were lost on that day including that of an area chief while others suffered permanent injuries.

Abdirizak Dekow who had visited the the market to shop for stationary for his KCPE that year, lost one eye.

A bullet shot to disperse the crowd hit a wall where he was hiding and shrapnel from the bullet hit one of his eyes.

“I was rushed to Garissa Provincial Hospital and later to Kenyatta National Hospital. I had to take a break from school,” says Abdirizak who now wears sunglasses to hide his disfigurement.

The government has since been taken to court for compensation of the traders and the injured. The market is slowly coming back to life as traders, displaying admirable resilience, rebuild their stalls and slowly but surely work at plying their trade to their former customers.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION