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Uganda: Fire destroys Owino Market

A massive fire gutted Kampala's Owino Market early Wednesday morning, seriously injuring five people and destroying thousands of stalls. As many as 25,000 traders, mostly women, are estimated to have suffered losses.

Owino, also known as the Nakivubo Park Yard and St. Balikuddembe Market, is Kampala's largest market and has been at the center of several controversies involving leasing rights. Recent plans to build a new bus terminal at the Nakivubo Stadium next door have sparked anger among vendors, who will lose their space if the development proceeds as planned.

Uganda's Daily Monitor is reporting that the fire started at a hole in the wall separating the market from the stadium, and many victims are accusing the bus company that wants to build the terminal of arson. Some bloggers agree.

Phantom at Even Steven writes:

The Market got burnt. I am staying with arson because those who should know, albeit having said it in the throes of grief, maintain that someone burnt down their lives. Listening to P. K. Bbosa in the evening while he hosted some traders, it came out that the Minister Matiya Kasaija and his counterpart Disaster Preparedness State Minister Musa Echeru had happened upon what should have been immediately bagged as critical evidence: a kavera (Ed.: plastic bag) and a little can that had previously obviously held petrol. That the Police did not take these items is really worrying.

Geria at Ariaka wonders if the fire department played a role, noting:

The head quarters of the fire fighting institution, the police fire brigade happens to be a stone’s throw away from the Nakivubo scene. They arrived at the scene 90 minutes late according to press reports.

Tumwijuke at Ugandan Insomniac laments the loss of so many livelihoods, claiming, “Every tragedy is an opportunity for change, but this is Uganda. Our learning curve is L-shaped.” She accuses the many politicians who spent Wednesday at the market of political posturing:

That there should be a National Day for the Caning of All Politicians. I spent much of yesterday afternoon at Owino Market. Within the space of about three hours, I counted 17 local and national politicians who visited the market to ‘show their sympathy’ to the vendors. Opposition leaders blamed the government for not investing in the safety of the people. Cabinet ministers made unrealistic promises of compensation. Members of Parliament said enough was enough and it was time for the people to demand more for their taxes. None of them mentioned he obvious: that the vendors were sitting on a time bomb, that the politicians all knew it and that they chose to do absolutely nothing.

Spartakuss also criticizes Ugandan politicians who “have the audacity to howl empty promises while hurling insults at government.” He writes:

I shopped there growing up [no i didn't stop, i just haven't bought clothes in a long time] and i was told by the guy who sold me shirts that the suits they unwrapped which were good were actually sold to the upmarket stores to go for upwards of UGX 1 million (Ed.: approximately $500)! Now this population is caught without an out. they have taken loans, borrowed, buried their life savings into this. 25,000 lives changed by one action. What of all their dependents, families, their children at campus? This is tantamount to terrorism!

In the end, these are the people who work and toil and sweat and eat the sewerage that runs through their workplace are the ones who pay for everything that the politicians enjoy and covet. They are the ones who vote, the ones who take loans, who send their kids to school, who buy all that investor -produced sugar and tea! who bloody buy airtime! They are the reason that most of these banks exist! These are the reason there is a tax base in Kampala! They support this city and almost this country on their shoulders! on nothing but those lean shoulders.

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