Kenyan professionals seek alternative income sources during COVID-19 crisis

Several Kenyan professionals have taken up selling various goods, from the trunks of their vehicles, in an open-air market in a section of Kiambu County as a way of coping with the financial crunch brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO: CGTN Africa/David Maeri

Nestled in a plush residential area of Kenya’s Kiambu County is a relatively odd sight: an open market by the roadside. The market mushroomed as Kenyans of different professions fell upon hard times due to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals decided to band together and sell various goods from the trunks of their vehicles.

In an area inhabited by the wealthy, who like to have their space and privacy, these traders have so far managed to avoid being banned from the area completely after coming to an agreement with authorities on how they set themselves up to avoid traffic congestion in the area.

On one side of the road, a young couple sells a range of supplements, herbal medicines and used items from the UK and the US.

The couple, Duncan and Faith, have been at the roadside for two weekends. They say business is pretty good right now.

“The main thing here is just trying to build the clients. There are so many people that have stood here, they want different things. They want us to ship different things for them and just picking their number or them taking our numbers shows there is a glimmer of hope after all. That is one of the things I have liked being on the side of the road,” Duncan said.

Duncan, an engineer by profession, was living and working in the UK before he lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faith is an entrepreneur running a number of businesses but she was forced to close the butchery she runs. She began selling meat online not long after Duncan lost his job.

Duncan said they stayed for about two months after the butchery closed before deciding to venture into the open market and try their hand there. Duncan credits Faith with being the driving force behind this as she is an entrepreneur and more of a risk-taker than he is.

“All we are trying to do is keep ourselves going because we have limited times in the day and we have limited times to go because some of the counties are closed,” he said.

The couple was also adversely affected by the government restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus. Faith operates a shop in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area, which was put under a partial lockdown for nearly a month, meaning she was unable to access her premises. That order has, however, since been lifted.

As the business is still in its infancy, Duncan said it was still too early to estimate how much they would be able to make to supplement their income needs.

“It’s difficult to say at the moment because we just decided to test the waters here. Unless we traded here for a month, we can have an estimate whether it can be a quarter. I do not think it will make half of it,” he said.

They have had to make adjustments to their lives due to the current tough times. They now focus on strictly purchasing essentials and no longer enjoy a lot of luxuries, like going on holidays, as they used to as they aim to survive and keep up with their bills.

The business has not been without challenges, though, as restrictions in place due to the pandemic continue to affect them.

“At the moment we cannot get the supplies from outside the country like we normally do. We do not know when we can bring the ex-UK or ex-US stuff and the supplements themselves. That is a big hindrance because you cannot plan ahead because of that. It is like (for) everybody else, there is some uncertainty in front of us in many ways,” Duncan said.

However, it is not only the couple’s livelihood which has been affected by COVID-19. Some of the grand plans they had for 2020 have had to be put on hold.

“The other things we wanted to do, like getting married and all that, that cannot happen now. We could not do it because of the COVID-19,” Faith said.

The couple noted that though the spread of the pandemic has been devastating, they have been able to get some positives out of the experience. They have delved into online sales and learning.

“Excel 2016 is something we have been learning. Because of all these businesses that we are running, using Excel makes work easier. You are one person but you can maneuver all the businesses just through a laptop,” Faith added.

Duncan hopes to return to the UK as soon as possible to try and get things back on track. However, travel restrictions and border closures due to the ongoing pandemic might prove to be a hurdle.

“He lives in the UK so movement has actually been an issue. He cannot fly back. Despite trying to work it out, he has been here for the longest (time). He has not gone back to his home,” Faith said.

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