Traders in Eldoret town on Thursday closed down their businesses protesting what they termed extortion by Uasin Gishu County enforcement officers.
Led by Hawkers Pamoja Tufanye Biashara Group spokesman Maina Wachira, the traders complained that rogue county enforcement officers have created an "unconducive environment" for them.
“The county enforcement officers have been going round collecting money from each trader operating in Eldoret town. This is unacceptable because we remit revenue to the county government as per the law,” said Mr Wachira.
Anti-riot police officers were forced to throw tear gas canisters at the protesting traders who threatened to march to the county government’s offices to seek audience with Governor Jackson Mandago, who was said to be attending the Eldoret ASK Show.
“It is true that we are not allowed to sell mitumba clothes in the town’s central business district but we don’t like how we are being treated. All we want is audience with Governor Mandago so that he can listen to our grievances,” added Mr Wachira.
This comes in the wake of an intensified crackdown on mitumba traders operating in the town’s CBD.
COUNTY OFFICERS CONDEMNED
The traders marched in the town’s streets, carrying placards and chanting slogans condemning the enforcement officers.
They petitioned Governor Mandago and the national government to intervene.
However, their attempts to petition the county assembly were thwarted after they were teargassed by anti-riot police officers.
The traders mostly operate from Oloo Street, Oginga Odinga Street and the town’s main market.
Most shops in the town were closed as their owners took part in the protests.
“There has been harassment and intimidation by county government enforcement officers on our businesses and it is high time we respected each other for the socio-economic prosperity of this county and nation at large,” said Mr Wachira.
Turbo Sub-County Police Commander Eliud Maiyo said that the county’s leadership would hold a meeting with leaders of the traders before the end of the day.
“I want to plead with the traders to go back to their businesses so that we can give room for discussions between the county government, county security committee and leaders of the traders to find a lasting solution to this stalemate,” said Mr Maiyo.
The hawkers have demanded the adoption of the Hawkers and Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihoods and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill saying it will give them recognition and acknowledge their rights.
Central Organisation of Hawkers Association Kenya Secretary-General Gerald Habuti said despite holding a meeting and signing an MoU with the county government last October, county askaris have continued to violate the agreement.
Mr Habuti said both parties had agreed that any issues to do with vendors and hawkers in the county would be managed in a professional way with both parties being involved but this has not been the case.
“The regulations we came up with in our last meeting were meant to facilitate the relationship between both parties. It was supposed to guide the licensing process,” said Mr Habuti.
“We want the battles between hawkers and the county askaris in this county to be resolved once and for all,” he added.
He said despite an agreement in last year’s meeting which designated places where hawkers should be operating from, the county askaris later demolished their makeshift structures.
“The askaris solicit bribes from vendors and those who cannot pay have their structures demolished. The licensing process has also been compromised which is very wrong,” he said.