In her tiny tin hovel of less than a square meter, Achieng Caroline slices spinach which she wraps in small bundles. On the table are mixed plantains, onions, tomatoes, avocados, oranges, some spices, which she still has to sort before trying to sell them in the neighborhood. Achieng, 43, lives in Kibera, south of Nairobi. His business that hangs by a thread and his precarious daily life perfectly sums up life in this slum often presented as the largest in Africa. Over a few square kilometers, 250,000 inhabitants, according to official figures – five times as many according to other sources – are crammed into makeshift little houses built haphazardly, condemned to terrifying hygienic conditions, the most often without water or latrines.
From her hut lost in the middle of the Gatwekera neighborhood, where no one wears a mask – it costs as much as a meal, so you have to choose – Achieng is fighting a fight for survival for herself, her husband and her three children. His meager capital enables him to earn on average 300 shillings (about 2.30 euros) per day. With this income alone, he must ensure the subsistence of the whole household. “My husband is a painter. Before, he earned at least 1,000 shillings a day. But no one has wanted to give him a job for almost a year, just because he’s from Kibera. We are accused of being propagators of the coronavirus “, she explains. Since March, when Kenya recorded its very first case of Covid-19 (it is officially near 44,900 today, with more than 800 dead), the Minister of Health, Mutahi Kagwe, has effect ceased to emphasize the importance of preventing an explosion of contaminations in densely populated areas, sometimes directly naming Kibera.
1.7 million Kenyans lost their jobs
“All eyes are on us. Some thought we were all going to die. In the end we did not die of the virus but we risk dying of starvation, because today it is believed that it is Kibera who distributes the Covid in Nairobi. Nobody wants to give us work when these small trades, masons, porters, etc., are what made us live “, explains another resident of the slum, David, 52. Placed in a doctor’s office, he was laid off because of the economic crisis that hit Kenya in the wake of the financial crisis. This is the official version anyway. In the back of his mind, David can’t help but think that he was mostly the victim of his place of residence.
The pandemic linked to the coronavirus has disrupted an already trying daily life in this Kibera where the average monthly income per capita was estimated at less than 43 euros before the crisis. The slum exemplifies to the extreme the economic disparities that plague Nairobi, a modern and busy capital, but where more than half of the 4.3 million inhabitants live in low-income areas. According to figures published in July by Trends and Insights for Africa, a market research house, 54% of residents in these areas are unemployed and half have lost their livelihood recently due to the health crisis and of its restrictions. A roughly similar situation can be observed nationally, in a country where more than 80% of the working population works in the informal sector. In three months, from April to June, 1.7 million Kenyans lost their jobs, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
“Thousands of businesses on the verge of closing”
“To the millions of unemployed people, we must add the thousands of businesses that are about to close. Banks barely extend credit to small businesses, deeming them to be high risk. The economy is paralyzed “, comments Ken Gichinga, economist and head of Mentoria Economics, a group of consultants specializing in macroeconomic analysis. Kenya’s growth, which has hovered around 5% in the past three years, making the country one of the powerhouses of East Africa, is expected to fall to 1% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In the second trimester, it even contracted (- 5.7%) for the first time in almost two decades.
Ken Gichinga offers a dual approach to picking up the small businesses that help keep the Kenyan economy running: “We will have to reduce taxes to ease the burden on businesses and other businesses struggling not to shut down. And it will be necessary to inject cash into the economic circuit via a monetary policy which will once again facilitate access to credit for all these small businesses which support the majority of Kenyans. “ A little credit? Geoffrey, a potato seller, would indeed need it to be able to leave Kibera, which he now finds too sluggish. Before the crisis, he sold his potatoes to the inhabitants of the buildings next to the slum. “They are all gone. Some for fear of catching the virus, others because they lost their jobs, unable to pay their rent “, he describes.
Summary of the series “The African economy facing Covid-19”