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Why most Kenyans are broke, staring at tougher times ahead

By Lewis Njoka
Friday, August 7th, 2020
Traders go about their business at Nairobi’s Wakulima Market before the outbreak of Coronavirus in the country in March this year. Photo/PD/file
In summary
    • The effect of reduced income on households was worsened by increased food prices and decreased interaction with friends, an invaluable support system in times of hardship.
    • According to Twaweza survey, 68 per cent of the respondents said their basic daily food intake had become worse over the previous month while 26 per cent said it had become much worse.
    • Despite the reduced income and increasing food prices, being experienced currently, over a third of Kenyans are confident in the ability of the governments to handle the outbreak.
    • The Covid-19 pandemic reached Kenya in March  forcing the government to announced a series of sweeping measures to slow its spread, including asking businesses and companies to allow to staff to work from home, “with the exception of employees working in critical or essential services”.

Lewis Njoka @LwisNjoka

Eight out of every 10 households in Kenya have lost income or are facing financial constraints due to the coronavirus  pandemic amid a surge in food prices, a survey has revealed.

A research by Twaweza, a local non-profit organisation, shows that 85 per cent of households have lost income or are facing other financial constraints due to the pandemic.

The study follows another one released in June by Tifa Research which placed the number of people whose income has reduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic at 69 per cent.

According to the new survey dubbed; Coping with Coronavirus? Kenyan citizens’ knowledge, attitudes and practices, negative impact on businesses and the economy was the most commonly cited effect of the virus at 70 per cent followed by the closure of businesses and schools at 55 per cent.

Food prices

The effect of reduced income on households was worsened by increased food prices and decreased interaction with friends, an invaluable support system in times of hardship.

Food prices have risen by 28 per cent while interaction with friends has reduced by 23 per cent, as per the Twaweza report.

According to the survey, 68 per cent of the respondents said their basic daily food intake had become worse over the previous month while 26 per cent said it had become much worse.

About 52 per cent said that food prices have increased in the last two weeks.

“These data provide valuable insights. On the one hand it is good to see high levels of awareness of many of the basic facts about Covid-19.

However the level of economic stress experienced by citizens is alarming. Many are reporting eating less, and are expressing deep worry about the economic impact of the pandemic,” Twaweza Kenya Country Lead, James Ciera. 

“We need to keep listening to citizens’ voices so as to understand what they know, how they are changing their behaviour and whether they trust and support the response measures.

This way, we can design more effective messaging and interventions to help pull Kenya out of these trying times,” he added.

Samuel Nyandemo, a senior economic lecturer at the University of Nairobi says the percentage of Kenyans who have lost income could be even higher as most small-scale businesses have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

“All businesses, particularly the small-scale businesses, have been brought down to their knees meaning their incomes have been suppressed.

That leads to drastic decline in total incomes. The government should come in with interventions to cushion small scale businesses by giving them soft loans and shy away from lockdowns to allow them to thrive,” he said.

The report findings are in line with several other reports released recently which show that the virus has adversely affected incomes of individuals and households.

A survey by TIFA research released late June revealed that 69 per cent of Kenyans had reduced income while 43 per cent had lost it completely.

On May 1, President Uhuru Kenyatta had warned that over half a million Kenyans would lose jobs in the next six months resulting in reduced income.

Earlier in March, a Cytonn report predicted that the coronavirus would reduce Kenya’s GDP growth to a range of 4.3 per cent to 5.2 per cent this year depending on the severity of the outbreak and economic implications for the country.

Credit growth

However, a Central Bank of Kenya Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) report released Wednesday says the country’s private sector credit growth will expand in the next one month and for the rest of the year as demand by businesses increase in response to easing Covid-19 restrictions.

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