News reached us this week that a large fire burned through more than 150 shops in Kayanga Monday night. The town’s entire market area has been more or less destroyed. Many entrepreneurs and their families depended on these shops as their sole source of income, and they were the go-to place for Kayanga residents in search of food, clothes, and other basic supplies. Our fear, and the fear echoed by those in Kayanga we have been able to talk with, is that the effects of this fire will be devastating. We at The Ota Initiative send our deepest condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.
A building in Kayanga's market burns during a sudden fire on Monday night.
The fire began around 7:45 last night, and while the cause is still unknown, some report the fire was started by a piece of cloth falling on an unattended stove. The fire began to burn quickly, but unfortunately Kayanga does not have a fire department or a fire truck. The city government has said that while they have been planning to purchase a firetruck for a while, they have never had the necessary funds to do so. A firetruck was called from the city of Bukoba a 2-hour drive away, but when it arrived in Kayanga around 10 pm, the damage was already done.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that many of the destroyed shops were small business established with the help of bank loans. Unfortunately, these bank loans did not come with any sort of insurance. The shop owners must now find some way to support their families, restart their businesses, and pay off their loans. One shop owner interviewed by the BBC estimated that he lost 45 million shillings ($20,500), worth of inventory in the fire, inventory bought with a 20-million-shilling ($9,145) bank loan that did not include insurance. NGOs working in the area have predicted that the road to recover will be a long one and are looking for ways to support shop owners such as this one.
Residents of Kayanga survey the ruins of the town's market after a giant fire destroyed more than 150 shops.
The good news coming out of the fire is that no one was killed. While the effects of this disaster will be felt for a long time, this is one piece of news to be thankful for. The Ota Initiative has begun discussions with other community stakeholders about the best way to respond to this disaster. While our organization is obviously not meant to aid victims of fire, we hope we can contribute to Kayanga’s recovery in any small way possible.
No English news outlets have covered the fire, but any Swahili speakers looking for more information can read this story from BBC Swahili. We will keep you updated as more details become clear, but for now please keep the town of Kayanga, all of its residents, and the families of The Ota Initiative in your thoughts and prayers.