Demos have exposed the frailty of our economic lives

I even got the luxury of a haircut at some barbershop where one customer told us he left home lest his son thought he is a coward.

My observation is that things slowly returned to normal on the second and third days, but the usual hustle and bustle of the city was subdued.

I never came across tear gas, which seems to be sensitive to the social economic status of a place. But I noted the Procession Way was closed.

Traffic on all the streets was light. I wished Nairobi was always like that. But my wish is selfish. That emptiness meant a loss of business. We make money from people, not the streets.

Matatus, restaurants, hotels, schools, kiosks, shops or apartments make money from customers, not the space. When we say someone owns a business, we should be more specific and say they own some customers. Why else are countries with low population growth worried? Why else do some countries celebrate immigration?

Even China had to relax the one-child rule. It needs consumers, more so after starting to shift into a service-based economy after industrialisation.

The reality is that we make money from people. Tax is paid by people, not premises. If we fail to report to work or open businesses, we do not consume, we make less profit and pay less tax. And VAT contribution to tax revenues is going up. The emptiness of the city should worry us more than tear gas. It signifies lost income.

It's worse for those who live from hand to mouth. I saw them displaying their wares on the streets despite all the risks.

Mandamano (demonstration) has political overtones, but the economic repercussions are too evident and touch everyone.

The economy is interconnected through sectors, trade, supply chains and information sharing. An event in one sector reverberates throughout the economy, hurting the innocent and the guilty.

A protester is bundled into a police car after he was nabbed along Juja Road, Nairobi, July 12, 2023. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The unusual political overtone was presidential visits on mandamano days. President William Ruto rallied his political base as his nemesis Raila Odinga was marooned somewhere in the city. Talk of never wasting a good crisis - to quote Winston Churchill.

The fragility of our economic lives is further demonstrated by the lack of personal savings. That's why digital borrowing platforms and shylocks have flourished.

Saccos must be feeling the heat. And banks have hiked their rates after the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) raised the base rate to slow down inflation after subsidies were removed.

Even the mighty government does not save, it borrows through bonds and treasury bills.

Mandamano demonstrates the fragility of our economic lives. Remember over 80 per cent of Kenyans are in the informal sector with all its uncertainties.

And we have not yet recovered from the drought, the fallout from the Ukraine war, and Covid -19. With such memories, why are we stress-testing the economy? Was the economy not the key issue in the 2022 polls?

The political contestants, we must add have continued using the economy as the gloves in their political fight.

Clearly, the slow return to normality shows the gloves are torn, and both fighters are hurting. The courts tore the government's economic glove when the Finance Bill, 2023 was suspended.

They are seeking a new one through new levies and reviewing VAT exemptions. Raila is pointing out that the government's glove is torn, but the bare fists seem to be working.

What other glove will he pick after mandamano? It's worse for the political fighters without gloves! We saw them on the streets.

The gloves constitute jobs, savings, and for many, a dream of economic transformation - the promise made by the two key political contestants in the run-up to the 2022 polls.

We hope the key political contestants can feel and see the fragility of our economic lives and economy by extension and lead us back to normalcy.

That fragility can be felt across the country and spills over the borders. It can even spill across generations.

Maybe our past can be an inspiration to build economic robustness. We fought in the Mau Mau war and won and overcame Covid-19 and many droughts and upheavals like structural adjustment programmes, but the ghosts seem to be hovering around.

Can you feel it? Can we sort out our political and economic differences without the innocent as collateral damage?