Feature: Kenyan small business owners face uncertain future amid COVID-19

Source: Xinhua| 2020-06-21 20:41:23|Editor: huaxia

NAIROBI, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Sarah Wanjiru's bakery business that is located in the eastern edges of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, used to generate gross revenue of 50 million shillings (about 47,000 U.S. dollars) before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

For the last three months, the overall sales have dropped by 95 percent, triggering anxiety over the future of a once-thriving enterprise that was initiated in late 2018.

"I have not experienced this level of financial distress since I started this business," Wanjiru said.

Her Shiloh Loaf enterprise had employed 38 people drawn from Nairobi's Utawala residential estate but she was forced to lay off 20 of them in the middle of March due to a slump in sales.

Closure of learning institutions as a swift measure imposed by the government to break the chain of transmitting COVID-19 also dealt a blow to Wanjiru's enterprise.

She has been selling bread to schools, colleges and universities in Nairobi, Coastal, Central, Eastern and Western regions through suppliers.

Wanjiru retained staff on a half-pay but admitted that she was not making enough money to cater for their wages due to low sales of bread.

"The fact that I cannot make enough sales means I am short of revenue to run the bakery operations and that is a threat to any business," said Wanjiru, the former banker.

Wanjiru's venture is among nearly seven million Kenyan small, micro and medium enterprises that have suffered amid roll-out of anti-COVID-19 containment measures like curfews and partial lockdowns.

The Kenyan Treasury last week announced the roll-out of a credit scheme to help revive small business ventures that were struggling due to disruptions linked to COVID-19.

"I believe I am qualified for the seed capital as my cash flows can provide proof of my financial performance last year," said Wanjiru.

"The credit will help me get back on track. My number one plan is to get back the staff I sent home so that we can start full scale operations," she said.

Even as she looks forward to the financial boost, prolonged closure of schools, colleges and universities poses the greatest challenge to the revival of her business.

"My business is largely dependent on learning institutions and without them, I am not guaranteed a sizable profit margin. I hope the government will soon contain the situation," said Wanjiru.

Faith Awiti, a small business owner, is also eying the seed capital from the government's kitty while at the same time worried about a lean customer base.

Until late March, the second-hand cloth dealer operated from Gikomba market in Nairobi's central business district, where she rented a stall for a monthly rate of 70 dollars.

Awiti was forced to close the business and started selling from her house located in a working-class district in Nairobi.

"I had to close the clothes stall and started selling them from home. The daily expenses were more than the money coming in," said Awiti.

"But selling from home is neither better. Selling even one piece a day is turning out to be a miracle," she added.

Wanjiru and Awiti's predicament mirrors the dilemma facing many Kenyan small business owners as they endeavor to reopen despite uncertainties worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tom Nyamache, a professor of economics at Turkana University College in northern Kenya, said that massive capital injection from the national Treasury and banks is required to keep small businesses afloat.

"We cannot increase consumption of goods or services without money in the pockets of people," Nyamache said.

"Getting this economy out of the shock of lost jobs, lost incomes and reduced or depleted savings requires a strategy that finds the balance of all factors that catalyze an economy. You can have a business but you will close it in no time if no one is buying your product," he added. Enditem