More than 5-million people in Kenya’s informal sector, the country’s largest employer, have lost their jobs since March 2020, when Kenya declared its first positive case of COVID-19 and instituted stringent measures to control its spread, according to the Federation of Kenya Employers.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says this is in addition to 1.7 million people who lost their jobs between March and June this year.
COVID-19 is turning out to be an economic crisis for Kenya, where the Bureau of Statistics indicates that young workers between the ages of 20 and 29 accounted for 63% of the lost jobs.
Information Technology Graduate, Don Adrian Ingutia, 27, is about to begin another uncertain day. He is a freelance loans salesperson. His earnings depend on the number of people who need quick cash and he can convince to take loans. However, times are hard and for many weeks he goes without making a sale. “It is hard. It is really, really hard. Last month was really hard for me, because I did not post a sale and if you do not post a sale you can’t earn,” says Ingutia, who is a resident of Nairobi.
Things were not always this way. The 27-year-old has worked at an apparel factory that shipped designer jeans to the US, until COVID-19 crossed the shores to Kenya.
“They said it is about COVID. Look at us – COVID is affecting us. There are no shipments coming, no longer coming in,” he says. He then joined at least 1.7 million Kenyans who lost their jobs between March and June last year, due to restrictions put in place to contain the spread. “If I sell a loan today, I take an advance instead of waiting for end of the month to be paid so that I can survive. Rent is an issue. I used to pay rent on time. Nowadays even the landlord is like what is really going on with you.”
Federation of Kenya Employers CEO, Jacqueline Mugo, says COVID has brought with it a level of desperation.
“COVID-19 has brought with it a level of desperation and hopelessness as you at government know that we are hard pressed for cash, the country is broke, we did not have the money to run the various services we want to run,” explains Mugo.
The African Development Bank estimates that nearly 2 million Kenyans fell into poverty in 2020. Statistics from the Federation of Kenya Employers paint an even more grim picture especially in the informal sector, which employs at least 83% of Kenyans.
“FKE did a survey this year to see what the impact on the informal sector was, specifically in three counties and those are the numbers that we have extrapolated from the numbers that we have gathered 34% of the jobs in the informal sector had been lost if we extrapolate that nationally, then it seems to us 5.1 million jobs have been wiped away by COVID-19 this year,” says Mugo.
The rescue packages introduced by the government last year to cushion those affected by the pandemic did not reach the informal sector and many who lost their jobs, like Ingutia, were not lucky. Help form cash transfers did not reach them. And although East Africa’s biggest economy has vaccinated less than 2% of its population, it is betting on vaccination to fully reopen the economy.
“It is impossible to say how soon we can recover because once we vaccinate then you say we have vaccinated, operate somewhere near normally to the extent that we are not able to vaccinate quick enough I think it will be able to hamper us to be able to pick up and move on,” says Mugo.