The Star (Kenya) : 2020-09-11

SASA : 24 : 24

SASA

24 THE-STAR.CO.KE Friday-sunday, September 11-13, 2020 COVER Lockdown losses: W traders struggle to re They are trying to make ends meet after restrictio­ns, city exodus wiped out their smal JOHN MUCHANGI /@Jomunji H annah Ngugi, 56, has operated a small eatery at her neighbourh­ood in Jua Kali, Kahawa West, since 2010. “Before the coronaviru­s came, business was good. I could support myself and my family and even pay rent for the premises without failing. But after March, everything worsened,” she says. Before March, she would make Sh2,000 a day after deducting all expenses. But on March 24, when Covid-19 cases in Kenya had reached 15, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe ordered all bars shut, while restaurant­s were to remain open but only offer takeaway services. He said the two were likely to be Covid-19 hotspots. “My customers believed my place of work was infected with corona,” she says. Clients also used to invite her to their homes for paid catering jobs, but this quickly stopped. “Everyone was staying indoors. I didn’t want to take coronaviru­s to my clients.” The situation worsened on July 6, when the government allowed movement in and out of the Nairobi Metropolit­an Area, and more people fled the city to their villages. “That meant I lost many customers. Compounded with the mass exodus is people losing jobs. Many of the working class who lost jobs also started their own small businesses for survival, so I barely had any customers,” Hanna explains. She finally shuttered her small restaurant early July. rebounding after most restrictio­ns were lifted, the Parliament­ary Budget Office says it will not stabilise this year. The PBO says the night curfew, ban on public gatherings, workfrom-home directive and travel bans have already caused a significan­t decline in economic activity. In its half-year economic update to Parliament, the office concludes that the situation will only improve if the pandemic doesn’t worsen. “The phased reopening of the economy, as was from early July, could improve the performanc­e of some sectors, albeit slowly,” PBO says. The World Bank advises informal workers like Hannah should be supported to restart their lives. “Supporting small businesses and protecting jobs to cope with the negative effects of the Covid-19 crisis is particular­ly critical at this time,” says Peter Chacha, WB senior economist and lead author of the bank’s report on the economic impacts of the pandemic: Kenya’s Tough Balancing Act: Protecting Lives and Livelihood­s in the Time of Covid-19. from the harsh financial effects of the pandemic. Hannah did not make the list. However, she couldn’t idle at home and has since opened a makeshift open stall, where she sells vegetables, such as sukuma wiki (kales), cabbage, spinaches and fruits. But she is barely making ends meet. “It’s now 12pm, and so far into the day, I haven’t even made Sh100. Sometimes I’m forced to discard sukuma wiki because they go stale when people don’t buy,” she says. Hannah operates besides a dusty road opposite the gate of Vendramin Educationa­l Centre (which is closed) in Jua Kali, Kahawa West. “My daughter used to work at Vendramin, but she was laid off due to impacts of the coronaviru­s. The owner of this plot where I operate knows me and these other traders lining the road. He is happy because we help keep land grabbers away.” Hannah’s husband died in 2002, leaving behind a small piece of land. “You would expect at my age for my children to take care of me at home, but I have to work. I have to take care of my children, though they’re adults with their own children.” She has three children: the eldest has three children of his own, the second born lost her job at Vendramin and helps the mother in the new business. The lastborn is a PUSHED INTO POVERTY The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says the Covid-19 lockdown disproport­ionately affected women compared to men. The Survey on Socio Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Households, which KNBS released on July 9, shows the pandemic rendered 50.1 per cent of working women jobless. Many of them were pushed into poverty, which is heavily feminised in Kenya. “The Covid-19 pandemic will exacerbate poverty, especially among female-headed households, who constitute ( 30.2 per cent) of the poor population,” says the United Nations Developmen­t Programme in a policy brief released in April. The 2015-16 Kenya Integrated Household Survey results show 30.2 per cent of female-headed households are poor compared to 26 per cent of their male counterpar­ts. Although the economy is slowly ALTHOUGH THE ECONOMY IS SLOWLY REBOUNDING AFTER MOST RESTRICTIO­NS WERE LIFTED, THE PARLIAMENT­ARY BUDGET OFFICE SAYS IT WILL NOT STABILISE THIS YEAR ELUSIVE HELP Early May, Labour CS Simon Chelugui said they had identified 352,943 vulnerable individual­s, most of them women, who would receive a monthly allowance of Sh5,000 each for three months to cushion them