Cost of Eastleigh lockdown on local, national economy

Friday, May 8th, 2020 00:05 | By
Cost of Eastleigh lockdown. Photo/George Kebaso

The implementation of a two-week restriction of movement in and out of Eastleigh, Nairobi announced by the government on Wednesday took off with immediate impact on residents and thousands of business people who operate in the area.

A cross-section of traders interviewed yesterday said they had already felt the impact of the lockdown and had recorded losses running into millions of shillings.

For the first time in decades, the bubbling shopping malls, shops and eateries in the expansive urban centre that attract business people from far and wide remained closed.

There was a heavy presence of security officers in all parts of the estate, with 11 roadblocks mounted at major entry points to prevent movement in and out of the densely populated area inhabited mostly  by members of the Somali community.

At the roadblocks mounted near Rikana Supermarket and at St Theresa’s church on the First Avenue, at Kariokor roundabout, Pumwani Maternity and Medina Mall roundabout, only essential service providers were allowed to go in and out of the estate.

Yesterday, an official of the Eastleigh Business Community Ahmed Ismail, said the economic impact of the cessation of movement will lead to huge losses that can only be quantified in millions of dollars.

“Eastleigh contributes about 25 per cent of the capital city’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so you can imagine what will happen when all shopping malls, forex bureaus and hotels are closed,” said Ismail.

Though the president of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Robert Ngatia could not give a specific amount of money likely to be lost in business, he estimated it to run into hundreds of millions.

Economic impact

Ngatia said the closure of businesses, including expansive malls that sell a wide variety of merchandise, eateries, restaurants and markets, will hurt the bustling businesses district.

“It is difficult to quantify the exact figure, but both the country and the business community could be losing between Sh200 million and Sh500 million each day in Eastleigh due to the lockdown,” he said.

The chairman of the Small Traders Association, Samuel Muraguri, said that most of his members “who are poor people who engage in hawking, house chores, loading, and cleaning services” will suffer a huge economic impact.

“This blockade is expected to further frustrate our operations as small and medium size enterprises from the broken supply chain,” he said in a telephone interview.

The move, which is aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus which has infected about 80 residents, locked out an estimated 220,000 people who enter and leave Eastleigh’s commercial and residential places every day to eke out a living.

Apart from the traders and business people who flock the malls and market to purchase stock for sale in other estates in the city and other towns in the country, Eastleigh is also a major source of employment for thousands of workers who trek there every morning for menial jobs.

The ever-busy Garissa Lodge Shopping Centre, where items ranging from clothes, gold and diamond chains, shoes, electronics, to household goods, among others, are found in large numbers, was completely deserted yesterday.

The same applied to the matatu businesses in the area that remained paralysed as a result of the restrictions.

“I can’t fathom such an economy to be shut down for 15 days. As we speak, everything is at a standstill,” Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan said of the government move. 

Besides its strategic location in the capital which has made it the go-to-estate for key supplies, Eastleigh has emerged as a hub of key businesses especially foreign exchange bureaus, textile, leather and food outlets, which serve major counties outside Nairobi including Northern Kenya and parts of East Africa.

Hassan told People Daily that with the impact already being felt through the partial lockdown announced on April 6, Wednesday’s move to restrict movement in and out of East Africa’s largest clothing and shoes supermarket, would deal a double blow to the economy.

 “You can close Kawangware and other estates, but that will just be a social impact, but closing Eastleigh, is a major economic setback to the whole country,” he said.

During a survey across Nairobi’s third largest trading hub after the Central Business District and Westlands, we came-face-to face with the impact.

The busy Eastleigh First Avenue, the heart of the estate’s commercial activities, looked ghostly. It was the same image at the Garissa Lodge shopping mall and other several big retail shops.

Goods sold in the shopping malls include imports from China, Turkey, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Sources said although most residents had complied with the lockdown directive, some businessmen and onlookers had lined the streets to jeer at security officers as a sign of disapproval.

Community transmission

While making the announcement contained in Public Order number 2 of 2020 on Wednesday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said there was going to be closure of markets, restaurants and eateries for the period of the cessation.

“In order to contain the spread of infection of coronavirus in these two areas, National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus has recommended further containment measures…there shall be cessation of movement in and out of Eastleigh in Nairobi and the area known as Old Town in Mombasa, with effect from today, May 6, 2020 at 7pm for the next 15 days,” he said.

The CS said the spiraling cases in the area was proof of community transmission in the area that also receives thousands of visitors a day. The ongoing holy month of Ramadhan had worsened matters as Muslim faithful congregate to break the fast.

Most residents of Eastleigh Section 3, Biafra, California, Pumwani and Majengo areas who spoke to journalists said they feared they would not get food supplies to break their fast  yesterday.

“Police are not allowing us to go to butcheries and groceries; some of us use charcoal. How are we going to survive? Even in Wuhan, China, they set out time for people to go and restock,” complained Aisha Ahmed, a resident of California.

Last evening, Nairobi County Regional Police Commander Philip Ndolo warned that the authorities could be forced to move into estates said to be hosting people who sneaked out of Eastleigh to evade the containment, to eject them.

“We are on standby to help the Ministry of Health in case they announce a programme to conduct mass testing in these estates in which we understand people from Eastleigh have taken refuge,” he told journalists while on a tour of the estate.

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