by Harleen Jabbal
Twitter – @harleenjabs
Instagram – @leenarete
It is 5pm in Nairobi and the typical peak traffic has taken over except for the noise of an ambulance every two minutes. Since the first case of covid-19 declared in Kenya on 13th March 2020, the country now has over 47,000 with over 800 deaths so far. The country has been fortunate that it has not reached critical levels such that ICU facilities have been exhausted and the need for ventilators is so dire as was in the case of Europe.
From the onset, the wisdom of the Government in monitoring the pandemic progress and lockdown effects in other countries including India, England and the United States of America certainly slowed down the spread and curb the fatalities. The major lockdown between inter-counties and then the curfew and close of religious and entertainment areas including hotels and restaurants immediately halted the large gatherings. The Government was swift to share the list of essential service providers and the necessary protocols that they needed to adhere to keep the economy going. Majority of non-essential providers had no choice but to adapt to the new normal and allow their staff to work from home. This was successful, since Internet penetration in Kenya is at over 80% and the use of smart phones to keep meetings, sales and the daily routine work went on as much as possible.
Businesses had to severely adjust especially in the months of March, April and May. There was a ripe opportunity for innovation and growth. It was quickly evident in the food and restaurant business. Suddenly the tipping point required for food delivery that was required happened and famous chain of restaurants were able to meet the growing demand as other food entrepreneurs entered the market and used social media to reach their customers. Initially there was a drop in the use of mobile app services such as Uber and Bolt, but not for long.
In June, Bolt raised an investment round amounting to Ksh 11 billion from Naya Capital Management to boost its growth and development strategy. The company then went on to add over 800 cars and still continued its Wheel of Life initiative that provides access to hospitals for women in labour who might have obstetric emergencies during curfew hours, reducing maternal deaths during COVID -19 pandemic.
The pattern of new normal and flexibility is still on, the General Manager of SWVL Kenya (public transportation app), Dip Patel, told us, “a positive effect on our business has been the time and focus afforded to us for planning, restructuring and building a stronger foundation to bounce back on. We are fortunate to have been able to have the luxury to spend time on the future of the business while operations were driven to a screeching halt at the start of the pandemic. Resumption of business has been slow and is hampered by restrictions on movement that did not exist before but we are hopeful that we will all together conquer the difficulties that face us and move past them with new strengths.”
Whether the business was using technology, social media or a big manufacturer, Covid-19 spared none. According to Group CEO of Chandaria Industries, Darshan Chandaria, “COVID-19 has taught us to plan for the worst business-wise and the importance of being able to make quick decisions no matter how large your business is. No matter what business you are in and how essential your products are there were months of 2020 that business performance was worse than one could ever imagine.” Subsequently just like Europe who missed their summer tourist targets, so did Kenya. Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport Hotel is situated within the larger area of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, offering travellers reprieve and comfortable short stays.
Dr Darshan Chandaria
Even though the curfew eased and lockdown was lifted, the travel and tourism sector is yet to bounce back fully. Sales and Marketing Manager of Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport Hotel, Anne Nzuva, explained to us, “we anticipated and hoped that business would bounce back almost immediately especially after ensuring that the hotel had put all measures in place in as far as compliance with the Covid 19 protocols is concerned. So far, it has been a struggle as not all the Airlines are fully back in operation and also those that are operational are pushing fewer numbers due to social distancing, financial constraints occasioned by the impact of Covid 19 to the Airline and tourism industry respectively. As an Airport hotel, we are dependent on both domestic and International clients on transit. The numbers in both domestic and International travel have been extremely low and therefore the expected footfall to our hotel has been compromised.
The travel restrictions from the UK and other source markets has had a negative impact on the industry as a whole as the numbers that would have travelled into Kenya especially during the peak season could have been better. Similarly the economic recovery of source markets will determine the pace of the resumption of holiday and business travel”.
“We however remain optimistic that Tourism will get back to its old glory though gradually.”
Meanwhile, they have put all measures in place to ensure a safe environment for our staff and guests and as a result they are the 1st hotel in Kenya to receive a Covid clean certificate globally recognized by SafeHotels.
Kenya’s booming construction industry faced a near standstill. As Architect and owner of Sketh Studio, Jaspal Singh mentions that while the positive effects due to the pandemic included recognition of a lack of future planning especially financially for a period of time that has been experienced by the layoffs occurring in the larger firms and businesses; better team work; better output as a result of higher demand for job positions due to the massive layoffs; better site organization as more and more people are becoming aware of the need to maintain clean safe environments; conscious effort to have personal hygiene which has resulted in cleaner environments everywhere for us; better use of time as many people opt for online presentations and meetings where possible which reduces greatly our travel time and gives us extra working hours.
The negative effects have meant lack of materials availability; vulnerability of staff especially due to modes of transport; higher costs of living as basic commodities prices escalated; loss of business due to clients putting projects on hold; lack of cash flows due to the knock on effect of the pandemic.”
While there was high insecurity in business and securing customers, the security industry faced their challenges. They had to adjust to the new normal of less assignments for their security guards and concentrate on other tactics to stay on the game. Securex CEO Tony Sahni, shared his experience during the ongoing pandemic “ovid-19 has had a mass impact on businesses across the globe. In our business, our impact was faced from the hospitality and retail industries who had to unexpectedly decrease their manpower as a measure to minimize costs after travel and movement restrictions were enforced.
Covid-19 has also impacted the way we deliver services. The lack of physical contact changed how we conducted security checks and the general fear and anxiety resulted in our security officers being stigmatized. For this reason, we had to revise our security search procedures to incorporate the health measures put in place by the relevant authorities. Our security officers now use gloves and facemasks in our various assignments to ensure secure and safe security checks, an unexpected cost that we now incur because we have to safeguard the wellbeing of our 6,000 security officers, our wide clientele and their loved ones.
COVID-19, on the positive side, has encouraged us to innovate faster. We have made our internal processes even leaner and accelerated the use of technology to minimize physical interaction and contact – both internally and externally. We are now constantly thinking with these new dimensions about how we can use technology to provide security services safely and productively. For example, a walk through metal detector comes with a thermal camera, a security check with an additional temperature check. Less contact means that services such as remote monitoring are even more important to ensure there is increased security coverage with reduced footfall on-premises. As most of our security solutions currently are high-end, we are also looking at affordable security innovations that we can carry out at scale across Kenyan households.”
The Government remains vigilant on the medical and health aspects of the covid-19 but the economy and unemployment figures have them making significant moves too. The unemployment rate in Kenya doubled to 10.4 per cent from 5.2 per cent and the level of unemployment rose sharply amongst young people aged 20 to 29 years, according to the second quarter Labour Force Report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). The main reason for the double rate was the lay off of people aged 20 to 29 years as employers curbed their operational costs.
Thus, Kazi Mtaani was launched in April to cope with the growing need to support the unemployed youth. This plan seeks to absorb over 270,000 Kenyans into employment earning a daily wage of Ksh 600 with a budget of Kshs 10 billion budget. The National Hygiene Program (NHP), dubbed Kazi Mtaani, is a national initiative that designed to cushion the most vulnerable but able-bodied citizens living in informal settlements from the effects and response strategies of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first phase of Kazi Mtaani kicked off in April 2020 as a pilot program and focused on select informal settlements in the 8 counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kwale, and Mandera. Phase two was launched in July and surpassed the target recruitment. The work is based primarily in informal settlements and targeted to keep the area clean and well maintained.
President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated his statement that he made on Madaraka Day (self-Governance day) of 1st June, that “Kenya is still a work in progress” on Mashujaa Day (heroes day) on 20th October. Thus as the political arena has focused on managing the covid-19 they continue to pursue constitutional changes as per the BBI report. The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is addressing twelve bills that are meant to create significant changes in the constitution, including “Chapter Eight on the Legislature to undertake the following: Remodel the Parliamentary system by bringing the Government back into the House, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, the Attorney-General and the Leader of the Official Opposition, being the person who was the runner-up in the Presidential election.”
In the end, what is the price of a human life has never been so stark to us before. Nobody imagined that businesses can come to a standstill, unemployment rises worldwide, rent is impossible to pay, school fees is nowhere to be found forget about paying a hospital bill and attending a funeral. If according to the World Health Organization, a person commits suicide every 40 seconds then what is the price of a Covid-19 death? Business loss, empires flounder, operation losses, industries collapse and the list goes on? There is no business without us, so examine the reality at hand and change the priorities so that you can have sustainable businesses and not fickle castles.