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Coronavirus isolates Kitengela as travel ban cuts off suppliers

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Peter Theuri | Apr 21st 2020 | 4 min read
By Peter Theuri | April 21st 2020
FINANCIAL STANDARD

Geographically, Kitengela is a satellite town in Kajiado County.

But President Uhuru Kenyatta, while announcing new measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, roped Kitengela into the capital when he restricted travel into and out of Nairobi.

By so doing, the president in effect cut off Kitengela from Kajiado town and other neighbouring hubs that are the lifeblood of its supplies. 

This has brought business activities in the small town that sits off the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, and nearly 40 kilometres from the city centre, to a near standstill. 

Like Ongata Rongai, Kitengela has in the past several years benefited from the rapid growth of the capital city, as middle class Nairobians buy land and put up their own houses in the area.

Private universities and about 10 major banks have set up shop in Kitengela. The area also has five cement factories and boasts several high-end schools and hospital.

The town was already reeling from the effects of the pandemic after incomes took a hit and a dusk-to-dawn nationwide curfew was instituted; the latest move has just made a bad situation much worse for traders and business owners.

“It is bad, very bad. Some of us used to operate during the night, taking advantage of people going to and leaving pubs and other places of entertainment. I used to have many customers from Isinya and Kajiado. Now I cannot cross over,” says Julius Karanga, a bodaboda rider in the town. 

Mr Karanga, who owns three motorcycles, says he used to make an average of Sh1,000 on a bad day. But when Financial Standard caught up with him, he said the previous day he had taken home just Sh150.

“When you take away Sh50 for petrol, I’m left with Sh100. Can that feed my family?” he asked.

Loans to pay

Things are no different for Richard, another rider, who says on average he now makes Sh160 a day.

“Most of us bought our motorcycles on credit. How are we ever going to pay the loans off?” he asked. 

Karanga added that he has not paid rent for March yet, and he doubts he will be able to do so anytime soon.

He has resorted to a cat-and-mouse game with the landlord, whose patience, he reckons, will run out soon and he could be thrown out.  

“It used to take me three days to collect enough money for rent. Right now, I cannot afford it,” said Karanga. 

Other traders, like Eric Chege, a dealer in machine-cut building stones, has a similar tale of woe as a result of the reduction in business activities.

When we meet him, his lorry is parked alongside tens of others that are loaded with similar cargo, but there are no buyers in sight.

“We source our stones from Thika and our sand from Kajiado. Now, these borders are barricaded,” said Mr Chege. 

“We used to make two trips a day. Now, one consignment is taking even three days to sell.” 

And with the real estate industry experiencing an unanticipated slowdown in activity as people direct resources to more urgent and basic needs, dealers in construction materials are also feeling the pinch. 

At Ujenzi Hypermarket, a Twyford tiles distributor, business has tanked greatly, with sales taking almost a 70 per cent hit, the owner said. 

With the producer of the tiles locked away in Kajiado, and with the distributor unable to cross the Kajiado weighbridge, their stores are running out of stock.

Greengrocers, popularly known as mama mbogas, have also not been spared. One fruit seller, Virgi as she is known among her customers, said the travel restrictions have affected supplies, with her distributors hiking prices. She has, in turn, been forced to transfer the extra cost to her customers. 

“They have hiked the prices in Parklands (where she gets her fruits). A carton of apples used to cost us Sh3,600. Now it goes for Sh4,200,” she said.

Another vendor said the restriction of movement into counties where they source their fruits has really dented business.

“When we don’t travel, our stocks deplete fast. Those able to get supplies sell to us at exorbitant rates,” said the vendor.

While they often buy these fruits from Nairobi’s Marikiti Market, some source them directly from farmers as far off as Murang’a. 

Furniture dealers have also felt the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Quality stock

Joseph Muthumbi, the director of Juvan Furniture, which is yards away from the Kitengela Mall, said sales have reduced by around 40 per cent. 

He said most of his customers are from Isinya and Kajiado, but they can no longer come to town.

Mr Muthumbi is also not able to access quality stock from Gikomba in the city as supplies have dwindled. He is now forced to make nondescript chairs, tables and beds that nobody is buying. 

The same fate has befallen Jackline Nato, a co-manager at Sigari Furnitures. 

She said sales have dipped nearly 70 per cent, with some raw materials that she previously sought from Kajiado currently unavailable. 

At Dennis Timber, a dealer in wood products like fencing poles, sales have tanked by 50 per cent.   

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