In the heart of Kenya, where the holiday season is usually synonymous with joy and celebration, a different scenario unfolds this year.
Behind the festive decorations and the anticipation of family gatherings lies a feeling of despair as many families grapple with economic challenges that threaten to dim their holiday spirit.
Christmas and New Year holiday is usually associated with feasting, merry-making and boozing as people unwind after struggling or toiling for an entire year.
The celebratory mood might be different this year thanks to hiked prices of fuel, food and fuel. Apart from a few, most people are feeling the economic pinch, and enjoying the festive season might be the least of their priorities.
From farmers, traders, transporters, manufacturers to consumers; the song is the same - high cost of living that is making life difficult.
As the purchasing power diminishes, transporters and traders fear that they will not record booming business during the Christmas holidays.
In the alcohol industry, the Bar, Hotels and Liquor Traders Association (BAHLITA) secretary general Boniface Gachoka is expressing concern over the impact of new taxes and levies as well as multiple Amendment Bills introduced across counties targeting on their businesses.
Gachoka states that the increased costs might force layoffs of casual workers, affecting livelihoods and families.
“Tunajua maisha ni magumu na tunaomba wakenya pia kwetu maisha ni ngumu na wasifunge mshipi sana (we know things are tough but we appeal to out customers not to be too mean). We have enough nyama choma, and drinks, and our teams are well prepared to serve them better, giving them the best services,” says Gachoka.
Stanley Ngara, the founder of the King of Condoms initiative, raised concern over the increased prices affecting access to condoms, particularly for the age group between 18 and 24. He is urging Kenyans to prioritise protection despite rising costs.
“The industry is affected, and harassment of police has made it harder for the girls,” notes Ngara echoing the sentiments of many business owners who cited burdensome taxes and reduced spending power among Kenyan households.
Increased taxes on earnings have impacted budgets for gifts, decorations, and special meals, placing additional strain on families.
“If things remain constant, the majority of the casuals are going to be released. These are our children and people who are going to be affected,” says Gachoka.
According to the BAHLITA boss, the government is also losing funds in terms of taxes after the brewers and suppliers published profit warnings.
The rise in fuel prices has created a ripple effect on transportation, groceries and manufacturing further constraining holiday budgets.
Edwin Enzol, a matatu operator, said that the increase has forced them to re-organise their trips.
“They only make a trip when they are assured to make returns. And at times like Sundays, they prefer to pack matatus since they are little people and they don’t want to incur costs. It would be interesting to understand the number of travelling this festive season but I know the prices would be crazy,” Enzol said.
The man says the scarcity of jobs and business opportunities exacerbates the challenges, with many Kenyans finding themselves without stable employment adding the economic uncertainty dampens the entrepreneurial spirit that typically characterizes the festive season.
In the interim, Kenyans are discovering ways to celebrate the holiday spirit more frugally, emphasizing the true meaning of the season - family, community, and togetherness.
Gachoka emphasised: “Whatever we sell is luxury affecting spending. Loss of jobs and low returns. The weakening of the dollar will also exercise duty has gone up, and we are calling on the government to listen to us.”
Many traders complained that demand for clothes and other items has decreased as people prioritize essential needs.
“Kabla mtu anunue hukuwa amejiita mikutano kama kumi,” Ann who sales cloths at Imenti house said.
In October, the cost of living in Kenya went up. The government says the inflation rate, which measures how prices change, increased from 6.8 per cent in September to 6.9 per cent in October.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) explains that this is mainly because the prices basic commodities like food and fuel keep increasing.
KNBS Director General Macdonald Obudho points out that the prices of some food items went higher, like potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, carrots, beef, and kale (Sukuma wiki).
On the other hand, the prices of wheat flour and maize flour dropped a bit. The overall increase in the cost of food and non-alcoholic drinks from October last year to October is 7.8 per cent, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The CPI is like a shopping basket that represents what a typical household buys each month. It helps us understand how much more or less we’re paying for things over time. The survey also shows a 13.6 per cent increase in the cost of transportation. This is mainly because the prices of petrol and diesel, which are used in vehicles, went up. Additionally, the cost of housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels increased by 7.8 per cent. The prices of furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance also went up by 3.6 per cent.
So, in simple terms, the prices of many things we need every day are going up, making it more expensive for people to live and manage their households. This increase affects various aspects of our lives, from the food to the transportation and utility bills.