More than 600 traders who moved out of the Homa Bay town market to pave the way for its upgrading have begun returning to the new building amid confusion about who should occupy modern stalls.
Traders moved out three years ago when the national government, through Kenya Urban Support Programme, gave the county government Sh117 million to renovate it.
The modern building has seven market blocks with stalls including two-storey market blocks and an open space of 6,500 square metres for open-air traders.
All the blocks have a total of 306 stalls and a large open space that can accommodate more than 2,000 open-air traders, locally called aswekra.
Traders began moving back to the market this week from two locations where they previously operated their businesses as construction was going on.
But there was no clear formula on how they should relocate and begin business.
According to the department of Housing, Physical Planning and Urban, which was overseeing the project, traders who had stalls at the old market were supposed to be relocated first
The department’s executive, Roseline Odiambo, said the rest of the space was to be given to traders who were not previously in the old market but wanted to conduct business there.
The names of the beneficiaries were published in a daily newspaper a fortnight ago.
But traders who felt as if they were shortchanged stormed the market and began putting up stalls in areas that were left free for open-air traders.
Homa Bay Giant Traders Association chairman Geoffrey Onduso accused others of forcefully trying to occupy stalls on the storey market leading to fights among traders for the last three days.
A cartel later took advantage of the crisis to con desperate business operators.
A group of youth who claimed to be the ones in charge of distributing stalls began demanding money from traders before the latter could begin operations at the market.
They are accused of asking for Sh30,000 from each trader before they were allocated space.
Some desperate business operators paid the money only to learn later that they had been conned.
Police had to be called to quiet the tension as some traders began arming themselves with machetes to guard the spaces they wanted.
County Commissioner Moses Lilan issued an order on Wednesday for illegal structures in the market to be pulled down.
"The market was designed to be modern with no temporary structure in it. We ordered everyone who had put up other structures to demolish them by Wednesday evening," he said, adding that order had been restored at the market.
Mr Lilan told journalists that a public notice would be issued for people to apply for the remaining space.
"Selection will be done through a secret ballot," he said.
The market is one of two that the national government constructed in Homa Bay to improve revenue for the county government.
The other is in Oyugis.