Feature: Kenya's informal sector cushions workers amid COVID-19 job losses

Source: Xinhua| 2020-05-27 01:16:10|Editor: huaxia

NAIROBI, May 26 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of Kenyan workers who have lost their jobs in formal sector have joined the informal industry, with the latter proving that it is the last line of survival amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most large and medium-sized corporations in Kenya have scaled down their operations while others have shut down, sending their workers home.

Keen to survive, hundreds of Kenyan workers have joined the informal sector, with a majority of them starting businesses, adding to the thousands of others that have remained thriving since Kenya reported its first COVID-19 case on March 13.

Construction shops, grocery stores, second-hand items dealers, welding and carpentry workshops, mobile money agencies, meat shops and farming are some of the businesses that continue to thrive during this period.

It is these businesses that many workers who have lost their jobs in the formal sector have joined or started.

John Karithi, who worked with a micro-finance organization in the capital Nairobi, saw his contract terminated at the end of March when the effects of COVID-19 started to bite the economy.

After doing some research, Karithi decided to expand a farming business he was doing on the side alongside his daily job.

He had grown onions earlier in the year on about half-an-acre of the leased one-acre farm in Kitengela, south of Nairobi.

He expanded by growing tomatoes on the rest of the piece, taking advantage of the long rainy season that started in March.

"It was perfect timing because the rainy season had just set in. I went for tomatoes because they mature faster. The crop is currently fruiting," he said.

Despite the gloom of losing his job, Karithi has been able to earn income during this period and he is assured he will in the coming months when he starts selling tomatoes, whose prices are currently on an upward trend.

Other industries that have absorbed workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic include construction, motorbike taxi and food selling.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Mike Musyoka worked with a cleaning company at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

But the facility was closed following the ban on international and domestic flights due to COVID-19 pandemic. This saw hundreds of workers at various sections of the airport sent packing.

"It was abrupt. One day you have a job and the next you don't. I was lucky that I had a motorbike that I used to and from work. I turned it into a taxi," he said, noting he makes at least 10 U.S. dollars on a good day.

But not only those who have lost their jobs are seeking relief in the informal sector, workers like teachers who found themselves idle due to closure of schools have also joined the fray.

The east African nation's informal sector employs thousands of people. The latest Economic Survey 2020 from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows 767,900 (90 percent) of jobs were created in the informal sector in 2019.

Sectors that employ the most include agriculture, transport, manufacturing and mining. KNBS notes in the report that majority of the youth who exit secondary and primary schools, colleges and universities and individuals who leave formal employment readily join the informal sector.

"The informal sector is the engine of the economy because it employs thousands of people. And during this pandemic, it has shown its resilience, and that is why workers who have lost their jobs are finding relief in the industry by starting businesses," said Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 23 announced various measures to boost the economy, among them creation of hundreds of jobs in the informal sector.

These include paying youths to clean the environment and help build roads and bridges destroyed by rains to boost their livelihoods amid the pandemic. Enditem