Juba traders fault government over costly market fire

Juba traders fault government over costly market fire
What remains of razed down dozens of shops in Juba’s Jebel Market. [James Atem, The City Review]

Juba-based traders who owned shops at a section of Jebel Market are counting losses but also blaming the government for failing to contain an 8 p.m. fire that reduced the property to ruins Wednesday night.

Traders who talked to The City Review recounted how their frantic efforts to save their valuables hit a snag as the unforgiving accident struck when least expected. An attempt by the firefighters of the civil defence to extinguish the fire also proved futile when the truck ran out of water.

Sebit Angelo, the chairperson of the chamber of commerce in Jebel Market, said it took the efforts of firefighters, commercial water suppliers, shop owners, and volunteers to contain the blaze, whose cause remains a mystery.

“We are yet to determine the extent of damage caused by this fire. So far, we’ve learned that approximately 17 shops and 10 butcher shops have been completely destroyed. “We will be meeting with owners of shops destroyed by this fire to determine the worth of goods consumed by the fire,” the official told The City Review at the scene of the fire in Jebel Market yesterday.

Speaking on compensation, he said: “We do not have money to give to the owners of shops, but we will take the report to the state and national chambers of commerce and the city council to see whether they can help.”

Cause of fire unknown

Jebel Market, or Suk Jebel (as it is known in local Arabic), is one of the biggest markets in Juba alongside Konyokonyo, Juba, and Gudele, but it consists of shanty shops made up of metal sheets and wood.

According to Angelo, the investigation has stopped attempts to build further structures until a conclusive result on the cause of the fire is determined.

“Many people say the fire might have started in a tea shop or as a result of an electrical fire, but we cannot exactly tell what the real cause of the fire is at the moment. “There are also a few things we need to rectify, such as the proper building of shops and fire mitigation measures,” he said.

Cooking with naked fire 

Augustino Kiri, a shop owner, who lost fresh fish and vegetables, blamed the chamber of commerce and the Juba City Council for what she termed “poor organisation of the market.”

While the affected section of the market was designated as a vegetable market, he said, the city council has allowed restaurants and tea shops to operate within the same market, with women cooking tea with naked fire.

“Look at how these shops are erected—all squeezed up, and there are no spaces in between the shops,” a visibly angry Augustino posed.

“This is supposed to be a vegetable market, but we also have very many tea shops here where fire is lit to boil tea. Remember, this is naked fire.

“Now, we do not know whether the fire started from the tea shop or from electricity. All these shops are built from wall to roof with iron sheets and wood. They were supposed to be built with concrete like in Konyokonyo Market,” he added.

He claims that the fire has cost him and other traders fortunes and that they may never earn money again if the government does not provide funds to restart.

“I would like to call on the chamber of commerce and the mayor of Juba City Council to come and see what the fire has done to us. This is like losing a loved one, we have lost fortunes. “Only God will help us,” he said.

Another elderly woman who declined to reveal her name said her family shop was among those razed by the blaze. She said the business was the family’s only source of income.

“I do not own a shop, but my son does. His shop was among those burned last night. “We are now stuck, this was our only source of income and we do not know what to feed the children at home,” she said while sobbing desperately as chamber of commerce officials tried to comfort her.

In February last year, a similar fire razed several shops, destroying goods estimated to be worth more than $20,000 each.