Curfew: Kenyans Express Deepest Worries, Confusion

  • Nairobi residents walking to work due to increased cost of transport within the city.
    Nairobi residents walking to work due to the increased cost of transport within the city.
    Kenyans.co.ke
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday, March 25, addressed the nation and announced a raft of measures to shield Kenyans from the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak.

    Some of the measures given were tax reliefs to Kenyans on a Ksh24,000 gross salary and below, reduction of tax income rate to 25% from 30% and the reduction of VAT from 16% to 14%. 

    Kenyatta also announced a temporary suspension to listing with Credit Reference Bureaus (CRB) of any person, Micro, Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs) and corporate entities whose loan accounts fall overdue or in arrears, effective April 1. 

    Nairobi residents walking to work due to increased cost of transport within the city.
    Nairobi residents walking to work due to the increased cost of transport within the city.
    Kenyans.co.ke

    The imposition of a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew effective Friday, March 27, has, however, created worries among everyday Kenyans who, despite the need to curb the spread of the virus, are wary of losing income. 

    Transport

    According to the World Bank's Poverty and Shared Prosperity report 2018, 17.6 million Kenyans (about 40% of the population) live below two dollars a day, effectively living from hand to mouth. 

    The report ranked Kenya as having the sixth-highest number of poor people in the world behind India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Madagascar in terms of extreme poverty. 

    This predicament means several Kenyans, especially those living in urban areas have to commute daily to various places to earn a living and oftentimes, their evening commute would be in violation of the curfew that restricts movement beyond 7 p.m. 

    "Night Hustle"

    In Nairobi, an arguably, East-African capital that is closest to implementing a 24-hour economy, small-scale traders are worried that the viability of their businesses will be in doubt given the reliance on evening human traffic that, as a trader in Uthiru tells Kenyans.co.ke.

    "This curfew will probably force me to close down. I get to the shop from around 4 p.m. and close minutes after midnight. My assistant works during the day but almost 80% of the profit is generated in the evening. I am very worried, he states. 

    Swaleh Mohamed a youth leader and movie vender in Pipeline Estate - one of the most populated residential areas in Nairobi - says the curfew might increase the level of crime in the area.

    "It is good that the government is working hard to fight the virus and we commend their efforts in doing so. But, again, having a curfew in place will hurt most people and crime will most likely crop up again.

    "What the government could have done was to try and set up testing centres close to people and have them checked frequently. As you can see, most residents here depend on meagre earnings from their business to keep up with their daily needs.'' 

    Rent Jitters

    Before the Covid-19 outbreak in Kenya, life in the city was already hard for many residents. With rent taking approximately 30% of a city resident's income, Kenyans have been speculating on the unlikely scenario that the government would instruct landlords to either waive rent or reduce it on account of the loss of income, now exacerbated by the curfew. Some few landlords have already waived rent for their tenants, most notably in Nakuru Town.

    Speaking to this writer, Victor Edwin Simba a carpenter at the Tassia Junction in Nairobi, faulted the president for steering clear of the rent question, something he thought needed to be urgently addressed in the wake of the lockdown. 

    Pipeline Estate In Nairobi.
    Pipeline Estate in Embakasi Nairobi.
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    "The only announcement I was looking forward to was for the president directing landlords to waive rent until Coronavirus is contained. In Nairobi, we work for rent and food and if he could have taken away rent it can be easier for us to make it beyond the disease.

    "I now see most of us not only dying of the disease but hunger too if the government does not act quickly. We are in Africa and most people never make savings in Africa," he stated

    While Nairobi residents might be worried about the effects of the curfew, it is expected that business operations and consumer behaviour will adapt with respect to the shorter window as has happened before during curfews especially in the Coast region. 

    Silver Lining

    John Ochieng, a governance and devolution expert with State University of New York’s Agile and Harmonized Assistance to Devolved Institution (AHADI) says that ''New PAYE directives a big welcome relief to low-income earners in slums as those in payroll as they will get almost 100% earnings. This will enable them to meet more demands apart from putting food on the table''.

    Ochieng though disagrees with the percentage of the VAT cut terming it as a drop in the ocean. 

    ''Slum-dwellers have low purchasing power, buying commodities in small quantities and therefore may not feel the intended cushion''.

    Stress

    Esther Mbau, a counselling psychologist argues that the curfew may psychologically affect low-income earners as their stress levels may increase due to a decrease in income, as they will not be able to function fully within their setup.

    "Most of the low-income population may be susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, their mental health is at risk as conflicts may arise within family setups due to a decrease in income as a result of the curfew.''