Cornered and squeezed out of the city

The battle for survival in Nairobi is now on with innumerable residents adversely affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the city dwellers we spoke to say they are considering relocating to upcountry if the business environment does not improve in the coming months.

Willis Thion’go, a 36-year old is a matatu driver in charge of a 33-seater bus with the Indimaje Sacco plying the Central Business District (CBD), Industrial Area, and Imara Daima estate routes, is one such example.

“On a good day, I could make Sh6,000. That amount has reduced to Sh2,500. As a result, I used to earn Sh1,500 daily but now take home Sh800,” he explains.

As per the new government guidelines on transporting passengers, Thiong’o’s bus can now only carry 20 people.

“The number of return trips he makes per day has also reduced from 6 to 4,” he says.

“There are no passengers; schools have closed and a lot of people are working from home. Business people rarely come to town. We make fewer trips. There is no one in town after 7pm. I would wish to ask the government to remove the dawn to dusk curfew.”

Thiong’o has thought of doing the unthinkable.

“If the situation remains the same in the next three months, I fear we will get out of business. The money we are making is not enough to sustain the business,” he offers.

He is not alone.

Paul Oduya, a maize seller in Imara Daima, is barely surviving.

The 30-year-old, who did not advance past secondary school education because of lack of school fees, has had to quit selling mandazi in the past month because of his customers changing hierarchy of needs.

“People are not buying food. I could make Sh1,000 a day. The sales reduced to Sh300. I quit and started roasting and selling maize. I make Sh450 (profit on a good day). My biggest challenge is maize is a seasonal product. I am not sure what I will turn to when the harvesting season has ended,” he said.

“At the moment, I am struggling to pay rent so I cannot even save. I am thinking of heading to the village to reduce costs because I have a house there.”

Also affected are other businesspeople such as mitumba sellers and shop owners.

The entertainment and hospitality industry has also been hit hard.

An existing government ban on public gatherings means artistes cannot do shows affecting producers and service providers.

Similarly, all bars and entertainment joints have been shut down following an order from President Uhuru Kenyatta, rendering thousands of small scale traders, suppliers, and employees jobless.

As of August 24, Kenya had registered 32,557 positive coronavirus cases and 554 deaths.

Even though there has been a decline in the daily transmissions as reported by the government, there is no scientific evidence to suggest the disease will go away completely, or at the very least, normal business would soon resume.

The government has attempted to supplement its residents, with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development launching the Sh10 billion worth Kazi Mtaani programme where youth earn an average of Sh400 a day for doing menial jobs.

But as things stand, Thion’go, Oduya and other struggling businesspeople are yet to spot the ray of hope.

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