The beat is staggering back [Photo: Shutterstock]

As entertainment spots reopen and the music beat roars back to life after six months on ice, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the industry.  Five days after President Uhuru Kenyatta gave the nod for reopening of bars, the Ministry of Health is yet to issue guidelines governing their operations.

With the industry still counting losses from the closure, and with the year almost gone, major annual showbiz events like film festivals, music awards, and beauty pageants and fashion shows have been cancelled or postponed to next year. Patrick Muya, a trustee of the Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak), says most bar and restaurant owners will find it hard to recoup their investments that have already suffered huge losses due to the prolonged closure and harsh economic times.

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“The closure was too long and too punishing for pubs and restaurant owners and a number of them are finding it hard to resume normal operations. Some have huge rent arrears to settle. Others are finding it taxing to restructure according to the given health and work place guidelines and that means they will take time to raise funds to resume full operations,” he says.

Perak will release a report on the status of the bar and restaurant businesses next week. “You will be surprised of the costs and losses we are talking about,” Muya says. A number of restaurants, among them popular Heritage Grill on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue and famous Lollypop Lounge in Kilifi have announced their exit from the business due to Covid-19 challenges.

A report by the association in August revealed that an estimated 25 per cent of clubs and restaurants across Kenya were expected to shut down by the end of September. In Nairobi,10 per cent of bars and restaurants were not expected to reopen. About 1.2 million staff who work in 25,000 clubs and restaurants in Kenya were believed to have been rendered jobless, according to the report which claimed these businesses generate Sh900 billion in revenue annually.

The same fate befell the music and film sector whose projected five year growth now seems unrealistic following the Covid-19 setbacks. According to a report by PriceWaterCoopers, the local entertainment and media market revenue would increase at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.5 percent, hitting the Sh300 billion (US$3 billion) mark this year, and totalling Sh320 billion in 2021.

Besides the demeaning contribution to the country’s GDP, this too translates to less cash in artistes’ pockets. Cinema production and distribution worldwide hit an all time low, and the local movie theatres expect the situation to persist. “Many people seeking enjoyment even after reopening of cinema halls are opting for open spaces as opposed to theatres. This means it will take time before movie lovers stream back to the theatre halls in the same big numbers,” says Arafat Salim, a manager at a major movie hall in Nairobi.

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The pandemic has already claimed a victim. The iconic 20th Century at Century Place in Nairobi’s Mama Ngina Street suffered huge rent arrears and was put on auction in August. But there are hopes the industry is making a slow comeback. Today, the Carnivore grounds will host the Kikwetu Festival that brings together some of the biggest names in Kenya’s music industry, among them Eric Wainaina, Them Mushrooms, Khaligraph Jones, Fena Gitu, Wanja Wahoro, Sol Generation and DJ Foozah. The two-day drive-in concert is expected to bring the showbiz hype back. For Benga lovers, Ken wa Maria will perform in the highway town of Mlolongo.