Nairobi — Pauline Akwacha’s popular chain of eateries, famously known as Kakwacha Hangover Hotels and situated at the heart of Kisumu City’s lakeside in Kenya, is facing its most daunting challenge yet. Akwacha and other women in business across this East African nation are bracing themselves for the post-COVID-19 economy.
Strategically located at the heart of Kisumu’s bustling central business district, business at Kakwacha had always been very good. One could hardly find a seat at the eateries.
“We are known for our fresh, traditional foods, including meat and especially fish. This is the lakeside and fish is a big part of our lives. The meals are very affordable and the portions filling,” she tells IPS.
The first COVID-19 case in this East African nation was confirmed on Mar. 13. Within days the Kakwacha chain, other restaurants and the hospital industry closed as the government issued strict social distancing protocols to curb the spread of the virus.
“Now my doors are closed and am losing a lot of money because I still have to pay rent and do whatever is necessary to cushion my staff,” Akwacha says.
To reopen, Kakwacha will have to follow the strict guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health. Restaurant owners are required to pay from $20 to $40 for each staff member to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing before reopening.
Still, without cash flow, Akwacha will find it difficult to re-open.
Across the street, Irene Omari, the sole proprietor of one of the biggest branding companies in Kisumu City and its surroundings, has similar concerns about the market post-lockdown. As a woman, she struggled to access loans to start her business.
“It is very difficult to run a business as a woman. In the beginning I could not even access credit because financial institutions did not take me seriously. I had to learn to spend 15 percent of every coin I made, and save 85 percent to plough back into the business. Women do not access loans easily because of strict collateral requirements,” Omari tells IPS.
Omari says that the most pressing problems women in business face, include a lack of credit, patriarchal stereotypes and naysayers who tell women that they cannot succeed — because they are not men.
But she succeeded despite this. Up until the lockdown, her printing and branding business occupied two large floors in a building in the lakeside city. There, she pays $1,500 in rent per month, a considerable sum that shows just how big and strategically-located her business is.
“I brand for hotels, schools, companies, non-governmental organisations and walk-in individual clients. We have something for everyone. Our printing department caters mostly to schools. I have invested heavily in mass production by purchasing machines worth millions [of Kenyan shillings],” Omari tells IPS.
But COVID-19 has also hit the very heart of her business. With schools, hotels and restaurants closed, and as companies face a most uncertain future, business is at an all-time low.
Omari has diverse business interests and also invested in a trucking business to transport construction materials across the larger Western region. But this industry has also been impacted by the lockdown.
Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to decelerate significantly due to COVID-19. The most recent World Bank Kenya Economic Update predicts economic growth of 1.5 to 1.0 percent in 2020. Growth focus for 2020 was estimated at 5.9 percent pre-COVID.
While COVID-19 may be the latest addition in a long list of challenges that women in business have had to endure, there are concerns that the pandemic will only widen existing economic gender inequalities.
In 2018, only a paltry 76,804 or 2.8 percent of the country’s formal sector employees earned a monthly salary in excess of 1,000 dollars. Of these employees, 36.5 percent were women, accounting for only one percent of the total formal sector employees, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
There are no real-time statistics available yet on the impact COVID-19 has had on women in business.
But dated statistics paint a picture of the difficulties women had have to overcome.
Overall, Kenya has significantly expanded financial access and reduced financial exclusion. The number of people without access to any financial services and products reduced from 17.4 percent in 2016 to 11 percent in 2019. But while financial access gaps between men and women are narrowing, women are still lagging behind, according to the Central Bank of Kenya financial access survey of 2019.
For instance, in 2016, 80.9 percent of women-to-women business partnerships were denied loans by micro-finance institutions, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
As such, more women in business are turning to the informal sector such as table banking or merry-go-round savings and lending groups.
“This is why investing in women and providing much-needed affirmative action support remains necessary and urgent,” Fridah Githuku, the executive director of GROOTS Kenya, tells IPS. GROOTS is a national grassroots movement led by women, which invests in women-led groups for sustainable community transformation.
So far, this Deliver For Good local partner has invested in nearly 3,500 women-led groups. Deliver For Good is a global campaign that applies a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals and is powered by global advocacy organisation Women Deliver.
In the agricultural sector where, according to World Bank statistics, women run three-quarters of Kenya’s farms, the government says that women’s investments in farming does not match the amount of money they receive in loans.
Currently, women still only account for 25 percent of the total loans issued by the government’s Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC). This, experts say, is an improvement from 11 percent in 2017.
Githuku points out that previously land title deeds were a non-negotiable requirement for loans with the AFC and prevented women-led enterprises in the agricultural sector from accessing credit.
Today, women do not have to rely on land title deeds and can support their loan applications to the AFC with motor vehicle log books and cash flow statements.
But experts are concerned that these loans might come to naught as COVID-19 continues to disrupt the entire farming chain; from the acquisition of farm inputs as farmers struggle to access seeds and fertiliser, to productivity on farms, and the transportation of produce to the markets.
For now, it is a wait-and-see situation for women in business, including Akwacha and Omari, as Kenyans continue to speculate on whether the economy will fully open up anytime soon.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
Get breaking news on your Mobile as-it-happens. SMS ‘NEWS’ to 20153
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.