The pressure behind quest to reopen Kenya’s economy


The pressure behind quest to reopen Kenya's economy
President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers the Seventh Presidential address on the Coronavirus pandemic on May 23, 2020. PHOTO| PSCU

In Summary

  • On Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave the biggest hint yet to the reopening of the country during a televised address to the nation even as local Covid-19 infections continue on a steep rise.
  • While advice from the Ministry of Health makes the lead in the decision to reopen of the country, economic experts argue current containment measures are not sustainable.
  • Last week, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) published a survey that painted the untold suffering on Kenyans under the restrictive measures to contain the virus.

The state of the economy is set to force the government’s hand in the reopening the economy as Kenya faces up to irreparable damage.

On Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave the biggest hint yet to the reopening of the country during a televised address to the nation even as local Covid-19 infections continue on a steep rise.

“We know that a lot of Kenyans are hurting. We cannot continue with a lockdown and curfew. We can’t continue telling Kenyans to stay home and not go to work,” he said.

The pressure to restart the output wheel was evident from the Head of state as Kenyans from all walks of life continue to bare the hardships arising from wide spread disruptions to routine life.

Even so, President Kenyatta argued for personal responsibility in containing the count of infections under a potential reopening.

While advice from the Ministry of Health makes the lead in the decision to reopen of the country, economic experts argue current containment measures are not sustainable.

“The reason for a whole economy is to produce so we can eat. Even money without productivity is not useful,” said Johnson Nderi an Advisory Manager at ABC Capital.

According to Nderi, the Kenyan economy is heavily diversified with distinct industries and divisions of labour making every sector virtually an essential service.

“How long until we start saying tires are an essential when you can’t move your vehicle from point A to B?” he posed.

Last week, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) published a survey that painted the untold suffering on Kenyans under the restrictive measures to contain the virus.

According to the survey results, nine out of 10 Kenyans out of work were unsure of a return to their livelihoods as containment measures threaten to fold business units’ especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Moreover, nearly one third of Kenyans were unable to meet their rental obligations in April even as alternate reports tell of untold suffering on tenants including lock out from houses and forceful evictions including cases of landlords removing roofs of defaulters.

Recent modelling from the Ministry of Health shows the Covid-19 infection rate in Kenya is set to peak in the months of August and September.

Even so, Wangari Muikia an economist with Expertise Global Consulting says the country must not wait on the peak to reopen its economy.

“The current conditions only safeguard the incomes of a few especially those who can work from home. Many households have opted to discontinue day labourers. Inequality gaps are starting to widen,” she said.

“Reopening the economy in the fourth quarter would do little to change the current state of affairs. One quarter cannot hold up a whole year as you cannot just jump back in.”

Mukia however argues a post Covid-19 era must be guided by virus aversion measures including the reconfiguration of businesses.

“We have to think of new businesses. Past events including crowded matatus may not be there anymore,” she added.

As the rest of the world bows down to the pressure to reopen their economies, Kenyans will wait for the next review of containment measures which arrive on or before June 6.

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Story By Kepha Muiruri
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