I a country with poverty everywhere, you are surprised to find people whose wealth cannot be explained, and many of these are untouchable. If this wealth accumulation is not addressed and we just take it normal, Uganda is in trouble. National resources seem benefiting a few while majority yawn. It is sad.
William Kituuka Kiwanuka
HELPLESS: Traders look on as fire consumes Owino Market on Sunday night. PHOTO BY STEPHEN OTAGE
By Mercy Nalugo & Abdu Kiyaga (email the author)
Posted Monday, August 1 2011 at 09:28
History of infernos
On December, 02, 2010 at 11am Anatolia Enterprises Limited on 7th Street Industrial Area was burnt and six brand new motorcycles, timber, compressor and other property were destroyed.
On August, 30, 2010 at 6.57am, Kiseka Market caught fire and about 80 stalls and unspecified amount of property were destroyed.
On March, 16, 2010 at 2.50am at Kasubi Tombs the main house Muzibu Azaala Mpanga got burnt and most of the cultural relics were destroyed. The case is being investigated by a judicial commission of inquiry which has not submitted its report.
On Ash Wednesday in March, 2009, Park Yard and part of St. Balikuddembe markets caught fire, destroying traders stock, structures and money.
In 2009, 21 schools in different parts of the country were burnt. Most of the affected were boarding schools.
On April, 14, 2008, Nasolo, a girls’ dormitory was burnt at Budo Junior School, leaving 20 school girls dead. In the same year 83 schools were burnt.
In February 2005, 45 people were burnt to death after a minibus, a fuel tanker and a car collided at Lwankima near Mabira Forest.
By Andrew Bagala
Tension, anger and desperation yesterday played out in full scale at St. Balikuddembe Market, commonly known as Owino Market, as thousands of traders overwhelmed by the loss of their merchandise worth of billions of shillings in a mysterious fire that razed their wooden stalls and shops, cited sabotage.
By press time last evening, there were a series of conflicting accounts by eye witnesses on what might have caused the fire, which consumed a huge section of the Owino market, stretching from Nakivubo Park yard that shares a wall fence with Nakivubo Stadium.
Over 30,000 traders operate in the area, most dealing in clothes, shoes and similar merchandise. The Sunday night fire comes barely two years after the market was gutted down by another inferno. Most of the traders dealing in second hand clothes and shoes among other merchandise had their goods burnt beyond recognition and most of the inner shops collapsed as a result of uncontainable fire that stretched as far as St Balikuddembe Shrine connecting to Kisenyi, a city suburb.
The state of Police Fire Department
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Owino traders angered as police use teargas against them
Traders and witnesses Daily Monitor spoke to say the fire started around midnight—and they also think the “delayed” response by the police fire brigade department exacerbated matters. Some traders alleged that the first fire trucks arrived at the scene with no water.
The police Fire Brigade headquarters sits about one-and-a-half kilometres away from the market. Kampala Metropolitan police commander Grace Turyagumanawe was among the officers who faced the traders’ ire.
“We informed you on time but you arrived after two hours. You cannot speak to us,” shouted an angry trader, part of a group that barred Mr Turyagumanawe from addressing them.
He was sent away with the Central Police station Commander, Mr Herman Musinga, who was trying to calm the traders. With their bosses under attack, the police shot in the air and fired tear gas canisters to disperse the traders, most of who think the fire was an act of sabotage.
They point accusing fingers at individuals said to have bought the land on which the market sits. “We are aware there are some people who want this place and they had asked us to vacate although we overpowered them. As we struggle to put up new stalls, they are threatening us,” a Hajj Mubiru, a dealer in second hand clothes, who was wailing told Daily Monitor yesterday.
He, however, could not furnish more details on the suspects and neither could Daily Monitor independently verify claims of people buying off the land.
Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba, however, denied claims that the force failed to intervene on time.
“We received information at 2:20am and dispatched the first fire tender at 2:21am.Up to 6:45am, we had sent 15 vehicles to extinguish the fire whose cause we are investigating,” she told Daily Monitor.
She said the traders cut three hose pipes used to put down the fire. Area councillor Salim Uhuru also thought the wrangles could be behind the fire.
“Someone has interest in the market. They recently wanted to evict people from the market but we intervened. We are calling on the government to put up modern stalls for traders and investigate the cause of the fire to its logical conclusion,” Mr Uhuru said.
The Inspector General of Police, Major General Kale Kayihura, who visited the scene, said investigations are already under way to establish the cause of the fire.
“We are yet to establish the source of the fire but investigations are going on,” he told journalists at Police fire headquarters at Clock Tower.
The police boss dismissed talk that the market had been torched, noting that extinguishing the fire was difficult due to the poor planning of the facility.
“This market structure is poorly planned, it has no fire hydrants to support the fire fighters in case of water shortage and it was built using timber which escalates the fire,” he said.
Mr Robert Mwebe, a boda boda cyclist at Total Namirembe Road, said he heard an explosion before the fire broke out. “I heard a big explosion and smoke rose up the sky before the fire spread to other stalls,” he said.
Security agencies in December warned that suspected arsonists were planning to set Kisekka and St. Balikuddembe markets on fire during the festive season.
Gen. Kayihura warned then: “We are aware that criminals want to burn the two markets. We got to know about the planned arson attack through intelligence gatherings. So we aren’t sitting to wait for it happen. We have deployed overt and covert officers in both markets.”
The Vice President, Mr Edward Ssekandi, said the government will set up a committee to work with traders in redeveloping the market. “Government is saddened by the fire. It does not only make traders unemployed but also increases the level of household poverty. We shall set up a committee that will interact with that of traders,” he said yesterday afternoon.
After the first fire razed the market in 2009, the government set up an investigation committee, whose findings, however, have never been made public.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi also visited the area but did not speak to the traders, while Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago promised to clean up the area today.
It was not smooth sailing though for former presidential candidate Abed Bwanika. Traders chased him away, threatening to lynch him. It was not clear why the politician received a hostile reception, although some in the crowd accused him of being “a mole”.
Daily Monitor also established that several traders are repaying loans they had got from banks to recapitalise their businesses following an earlier fire that gutted the market in February 2009.
The government also gave them a Shs1 billion loan in 2009—seeing each trader get Shs30,000—most of which is yet to be repaid. A number of traders fainted on visiting the scene which by midday was still on fire. Many others could only look on as tears streamed down their faces.
Ms Hadijah Namukasa, who had just got a shs10 million loan, was rushed to Mulago Hospital, after she collapsed. Mr Mujib Ssenyange, who owned two shoes stalls in Kasodde area, said: “I have lost everything for the second time. I had just restocked on Friday,” as he held pieces of half-burnt shoes in his hands.
Faridah Nassolo, a food vendor who could not locate where her work place, said amidst wails: “It is true that God cares about us all the time, but this time I think He did not. I do not know what type of death to recommend for whoever did this. I cannot imagine what that person is feeling at home right now.”
It was a field day for those struggling to get scrap from the debris.
How I saw it
Paul Tumusiime a shoe dealer in the market
I was coming from Club Rouge when a friend called me, saying the market was again on fire. I immediately rushed to the scene but on reaching, the police had already blocked all the gates leading into the market and no one was allowed to enter.
I saw the police beating traders who had entered earlier to save their property.
The police accused them of theft. Officials from the fire Brigade were also around with their trucks but they were doing nothing, just watching the fire.
The fire brigade team later started putting off the fire after finally receiving orders from their bosses. That is how all this place got burnt.
By Abdu Kiyaga