Covid-19 will forever be etched in people’s minds as far as the year 2020 is concerned. The reason is the simple-The virus has taken such a toll on the world like no pandemic or crisis before it.
It is a never before seen event that can be explained by the number of deaths it has caused. Worldwide the disease has infected over 25 million people, with 17 million recoveries and nearly 900,000 deaths.
In Kenya, the disease has infected over 35,000 people, with over 20,000 recoveries and over 500 deaths so far. And medical experts predict that we might have not seen the end of the deadly flu-like virus like SARS and Bird-Flu before it.
Meaning, it might become part and parcel of our lives for the foreseeable future. While the death toll can be put into neat little numbers, what many might not see is the toll that the flu has had on many people’s lives.
As is happening worldwide, COVID’s impact in Kenya has spread beyond the sphere of healthcare and the virus’ spread, affecting economic development outcomes both globally and locally.
Kenyans(unless you are one of the new Covid-19 millionaires) have been affected from top to bottom in different ways. Kenya’s economic growth in Kenya is predicted to contract significantly with the Central Bank of Kenya revising its estimates for 2020 from an initial 6.2% to 3.4%.
The stock market was an early indicator of the changing winds that the virus would inflict on the country with the bourse suffering a 5% drop the first day a COVID-19 case was reported in the country.
And the bottom was the place it would continue going as the bourse had shed more than 25% on a year to date (YTD) basis as of 09 June 2020.
The result has been that most investors have taken a net selling position due to uncertainty in the market. One investor I spoke to named Robert revealed that he would not be investing in the bourse as it was already performing poorly before the virus. So how could he invest now after the virus had wrecked havoc on most bourses?
Another area of the economy where Kenyans have been most affected is the aviation industry which was already struggling before the pandemic hit. The sector has also seen massive layoffs in both small charter and behemoth airlines like KQ.
Since the Kenyan government temporarily suspended all international flights starting 25 March 2020, Kenya Airways (KQ) which was already suffering before has had to apply for a state bailout to avoid collapsing.
This has resulted in the airline laying off most of its workers while the management team has taken a 75% pay cut and the CEO getting an 80% pay cut.
To wit; one job in the airline transport industry supports approximately another 24 jobs in the economy.
The manunfacturing sector has also seen mixed results with sectors like food and health products being more stable than others as they are a virtue in the economy.
The production of food will be constant because of the persisant demand for food products. The health sector meanwhile has seen a boon as seen with the expansion in the manufacturing of essential medical and protective equipment to deal with the unfolding pandemic.
One of my neighbours told me that 2020 had been the best year for his family’s business. The man who didn’t want to be named said that he and his wife, who supply medical supplies had made money hand over foot. In fact, he said that he hoped the pandemic would go on for a long time.
The construction and real estate sector has also been affected with shorter working hours, a decline in construction materials due to supply disruptions, and lower demand for housing.
The sector which was already undergoing tough times in the high-end demo has been reeeling with many projects stalling as some Kenyans have had to scale back during the Covid-19 period. Other smart money has had to pull back entirely from investing in the sector.
This has seen such high-end areas like Kileleshwa and Kilimani see tenants re-locate to much more affordable locales like Ruaka and Thindigua. Many of my peers have told me that the it was best to scale back on the rent they were paying as many of them had suffered wage cuts or were playing it safe.
The banking and financial sector has also seen a significant drop in revenues with SMEs being particularly vulnerable to the crisis and unable to service loans or conduct meaningful transactions.
There has already been a significant increase in non-performing loans and moratoria issued with auticoneers even compalining that they are struggling to sell re-possessed properties at reduced prices.
The tourism and hospitality sector looks like a shell of itself at the moment with the heavy restrictions placed on people’s movement.
Intercontinental Hotel, one of the biggest hotel chains is set to close its doors after a 51-year operation in the country, while another prestige hotel, the Norfolk closed its doors a few months ago, firing all its employees indefinitely.
The agricultural sector has seen a local uptake from many Kenyans who have lost their jobs in many white-collar jobs. It isn’t uncommon to see many youth selling veggies from the boots of their expensive cars along busy roads like the Northern Bypass or along Kiambu Road.
The vegetables and fruits markets for exporters has minimal activity at the moment as they are shipping at only 25% to 30% of their normal capacity.
Our flower exports have more than halved with indications that production is currently at less than 10% and facing the risk of total collapse.
The industry has seen large farms laying off workers and struggling to service their loans despite a general off-season for farms running at 30-40% of capacity.
This is because of the way Covid-19 restrictions have limited flights and also weak demand in major markets like Europe and Asia.
The same can be been seen in the coffee and tea sectors which used to be bulwarks in the economy, which have also seen weak demand and low commodity prices in target markets.
But the biggest disruption has happened in the informal sector, which is estimated to employ 80% of Kenya’s working demographic. These workers live on a day-to-day basis and provide primarily low-end services.
I spoke to one lady who used to wash clothes for different people who said that the Covid-19 pandemic had lost her many employers.
She said that the employers said that they had to scale back on their commitments as many of them had either had salary cut-backs or some of them had even been declared redundant.
Many of the men and women I spoke with were unhappy with the way that the president had closed the economy. One lady Rhoda, who sold tomatoes and onions was of the opinion that president Uhuru Kenyatta had handled the Covid-19 crisis poorly.
“Look at Tanzania, they are allowed to freely move and work without restrictions, while we here have all these measures but we look like we are worse of than they are. Uhuru should open up the country. We are suffering because of a virus.”
Her sentiment is one I had mirrored by most of the Kenyans I spoke to. They felt that the handling of the pandemic had been worse than the flu itself.
In fact, many of them weren’t wearing the masks because they believed it would stop the spread of the virus but because it was a government mandate.
All in all, most Kenyans are struggling with the pandemic and many asked for Uhuru to open the economy saying that the cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease.