Wakulima market a health Hazard

By Monicah Mwangi

Nairobi’s main and largest wholesale farmers market in East Africa is in dire need of a clean-up, and/or rehabilitation. The Wakulima Market, from where majority of Nairobi residents get their food is in pathetic condition especially where sanitation is mentioned

The pavements around Wakulima market, also known as Marikiti are occupied by sellers of fresh produce, mainly fruits and vegetables to the passing pedestrians, who thus also benefit from the attractive prices of the wholesale market.The place is busy, a shoulder to shoulder pedestrian and mostly one is forced to squeeze aside giving way to the mikokoteni (hand cart) which seems to be the means of transport here.

Traders sell their produce at the Wakulima market. Picture by Monicah Mwangi

There are those with heavy sacks on their shoulders which they use to get their way by making those on the congested road move aside.

There seem to be no courtesy here as abusive words are thrown to anyone who seems not to cooperate with the hand cart operators. “Wee toka kwa njia ama uende ukalale kama huwezi tembea haraka, huoni tuko kazi,” one of them had shouted at me. This is Swahili for ‘get out of the way or u go sleep if you can’t walk fast, we are at work.’

Even with the insults, we managed to get through to the Wakulima offices situated within the market. Here we meet the area councilor Mwangi Gakuya, who joined us for the market walk which lasted for 3 hours.

Wakulima market which has become a health hazard due to unhygienic environment. Picture by Monicah Mwangi

Wakulima Market was built in the late 1960s as a wholesale market and for a time functioned  effectively in that regard. However, there has been no physical expansion or infrastructural upgrading of the market since it was built; during the intervening 40 years, Nairobi’s population has increased from under one million to nearly 4 million now.

Given changing  consumption patterns, the volume of fresh produce transactions likely increased by more than this. Combined with the market’s location downtown and the dramatic increase in general traffic there in recent decades, the lack of physical upgrading of the market has contributed to substantial congestion and increased time costs for traders, and probably contributed to the observed lack of hygiene in the market.

A walk to the busy market proved it all as the 13 toilets, which are said to have been built during the colonial era when there was a little number of traders operating within the market, leak and spill sewerage all over the fresh produce market. This condition is wanting and could be a health hazard if its not looked into.

Cleanliness seems to be a vocabulary here since those operating from the spilled area seemed comfortable even with the stint smell coming from the raw sewerage.

According to Mwangi Gakuya who is the councilor of Muthurwa/Shauri Moyo ward, the city council of Nairobi has allocated sh 4.6 million for the construction of modern toilets in the market.

Shauri Moyo councilor James Mwangi at Wakulima Market. Picture by Monicah Mwangi

The funds will be used to commission 13 toilets in a market that is currently a health hazard due to unhygienic environment. “We realise the poor condition of the market and the council is working on improving it,” said Gakuya.

The market which supplies fresh produce all over the city hosts over a hundred thousands traders daily and creates a revenue of Sh600,000 on a daily basis according to the Market Chairman Silas Githaiga.

Githaiga says the traders, led by himself have been complaining to the council for lack of service but now hold their hopes high as the toilets are set to be renovated.

Wakulima market Chairman Silas Kaguta. By Monicah Mwangi

“We are very happy for the move and we need to see the contractor at site to belif what we are told,” he said.
He however cautioned the council over the same saying they should not be asked to pay for the toilets but they should be kept open and be used for free as it has been the case before. “We are small scale traders and asking us to pay for toilets services will not be taken kindly,” he warned the council.

The councilor told the traders that the council will prioritize the environmental issues around the market including clean up and construction of modern roads around the market.

He however complained of lack of implementation by the respective authorities
within the council after the construction of the roads was given a go ahead
several months ago.

A view of Wakulima market. Picture by Monicah Mwangi

The traders, shouting from behind urged the council officials to be visiting during the rainy seasons and not the during dry season so that they can witness the nightmare they undergo while selling their commodities.

The councilor, who is also eying the mayoral seat said the  contractor will soon be on site to work on the toilets and ensured the traders that the council do value the revenue they collect from the market.