Small businesses spring up in Kenya as citizens adapt to COVID-19 environment

Tens of new small businesses have sprung up in Kenya amid the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak as citizens adapt to the pandemic environment.

From selling face masks to sanitizers and groceries, Kenyans have started several businesses to survive.

Some of those who have started the businesses are people who have lost their jobs due to the crisis.

Others are businesspersons whose line of trade was affected by measures announced by the government to contain the disease. These include bars.

On the other hand, some of the businesses have been started by entrepreneurs who have seen a gap and chose to cash in.

Before the outbreak of the disease, Joshua Musyoka was working as a teacher at a private school in Kitengela, south of Nairobi.

Schools were, however, closed indefinitely in March and his employer told workers that he will only manage to pay that month's salary since there was no school fee being paid.

To cushion himself, Musyoka now sells groceries in the sprawling town from the boot of his brother's car.

"We started the business together because he was also out of employment as soon as the pandemic broke out but his employer recalled him," he recounted on Monday.

He sells tomatoes, green vegetables, onions and fruits, with the car enabling ease of movement.

Tens of other businesspeople across the east African nation's major towns that include Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa have embraced the car boot sale model, turning it into a craze during the pandemic.

In the capital Nairobi, the car boot sale craze has spread in all the residential areas as people turn to business as a COVID-19 survival strategy.

"We are eight of us here. Before the pandemic, no one used to sell produce at this point but I was the third to come, and five more followed," said Musyoka.

Food distribution and sale has been classified as an essential service by the Kenyan government, making the sector friendly to entrepreneurs since supply chains are open.

Besides, with schools and colleges closed and many people working or staying at home, the demand for food has doubled.

The announcement by the government in April that every citizen compulsorily wears masks gave rise to business opportunities for many people.

Demand for the gadgets shot up and created new business lines for tailors and hawkers, who are currently selling them on the streets, in public transport vehicles known as matatus and in traffic jams.

To stand out and earn more, some businesspersons are branding the gadgets with Kenyan flags and COVID-19 messages.

"The branded ones go for 100 shillings (about 1 U.S. dollar) while the non-branded 50 shillings. Business was very good at the beginning but it has slowed down since some people recycle the masks and many players have come on board," said Bernard Kariuki, a hawker in Nairobi, who shifted from selling handkerchiefs to masks that he sources from Gikomba market.

Kenyans have also found business opportunities in making sanitizers at home, which are then hawked.

The sanitizers are central in the fight against the disease as they are used when people cannot hand wash.

"I use glycerol to make sanitizers from home. I have been doing it for over a month and selling in the neighborhood, online and someone sells for me in matatus at 50 shillings for a 100-ml bottle," said Roselyn Ngare, who branded the products Roservan, adding it is the product of the moment.

Ernest Manuyo, a lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi, said crisises often bring out entrepreneurship as people adopt various measures to cope.

"Just as good leaders may be born out of a crisis, so are entrepreneurs. In Kenya, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives including some people losing jobs and they are turning to businesses which heralds a brighter future since after the disease is contained, a majority will retain the ventures as they go back to their jobs and employ people," he said.

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