Every day, as the government continues to register lower numbers of Covid-19 infections, players in the informal economy see a glimpse of hope that the economic recession will finally come to an end.
Small scale traders, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, pray that some form of a bailout by the government will come in handy. Hustle samples some of the small businesses which have been entangled in a health crisis that, step-by-step, has turned into an economic ogre.
John Njoroge, the manager of Smart Butchery in Nairobi’s Eastlands is lucky that his venture is still open. Besides operating the butchery, he also runs a small hotel next to it. Before the coronavirus, Njoroge’s butchery would bring in Sh80,000 while the hotel would earn him Sh18,000 on a monthly basis. But after the novel virus was blown to these shores, the total monthly output went significantly low.
The hotel business brings in Sh5,000 while the butchery a mere Sh20,000. Njoroge has been forced to send a number of his workers home in order to cut on costs.
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“Before Covid-19, business was good. My hotel business brought in Sh18,000. Now I get Sh5,000. On the meat selling section I used to get about Sh80,000 a month. With the current crisis, I only get Sh20,000. It is a loss I hope I will be able to recover one day,” Njoroge says.
The Hub Beauty Salon and Spa
After waiting for close to an hour to get into the Hub Beauty Salon and Spa due to coronavirus restrictions, I finally meet the manager. Nicholas Juma is very candid. First he explains to me that he has decided to change his title from manager to team leader. This is because he wants to put himself on an equal level with that of his employees so that he can understand their concerns more.
Last year, the salon managed to hit its projected target of Sh2.5 million. The business has, however, experienced a 40 per cent drop in revenue in the six months to this year. But Juma is confident that as the pandemic figures go down, the business environment will improve and he will be able to embark on his expansion plans, the ones he had mooted before Corona struck.
From the veins on his face and his teary eyes, one would clearly tell that Steven Ndegwa, a taxi driver, is not a happy man during this Covid-19 period. Speaking to Hustle, he narrates a painful experience of being rendered jobless after an auctioneer forcibly took his car. He used to bring home Sh35,000 a month from his taxi, which was registered on a major ride-hailing app in the country.
“Despite the directive that the government issued to banks that people who have taken up loans be allowed to restructure the terms of payment, my bank did not offer any reprieve. It instead sent auctioneers to me,” Ndegwa says.
“Most of my colleagues have had their cars taken as a result of not being able to repay loans during the crisis.”
Ndegwa is now forced to loiter around his neighbourhood looking for menial jobs in order to put food on the table for his family. He had been in the taxi business for more than five years. Being rendered jobless is the most difficult situation he has had to deal with ever since he began his career as a taxi driver.
For years, mitumba traders have continuously raised concerns about a myriad challenges, praying that authorities could help them. Most of the concerns revolve around the demolition of their stores and harassment from county enforcement officers. Traders interviewed at the storied Gikomba market tell of tales of woe and pain. Many are the times that the market is burnt to the ground.
According to Nicodemus, a trader at Gikomba Market, threats from unknown people are the order of the day. The threats, coupled with stagnation of business during the Covid-19 era has made business at the market unsustainable.
“On Sunday we received a call that that our stores would be demolished. The problem is that it is no even the government that carries out these demolitions. It is armed thugs who are hired by faceless individuals. They also forcibly take iron sheets and metal bars which they sell to scrap metal dealers,” Nicodemus says.
“Now with the pandemic, it has become impossible to import the second hand clothes. To survive this pandemic, a lot must be done and the government should lead in helping the traders here.”
Shell petrol station
As the informal business sector dances to the new tune of the Covid-19 pandemic, Abdi Aiz Hassan, a manager at a recently built shell petrol station along Mombasa Road says there is some hope even as businesses continue to incur great losses.
Hassan says it took great courage to put up the business even as the pandemic ran berserk across the financial terrain. The petrol station has been in existence for only one and a half months. Hassan explains that nothing much has been going on in terms of business output.