Traders in Chuka strive to build back after Covid-19 ravages business

Bar Owners Association says that the curfew made it difficult to meet their overhead costs

In Summary

• Reduced earnings in the pandemic have resulted in conflicts with the landlords and eventual closure.

• The businesses also lost customers, their sources of income making it a double tragedy for the bar operators.

Chuka Modern Open Air Market
Chuka Modern Open Air Market
Image: KNA

Covid-19 has devastated huge economies the world over, rendered millions of people jobless and changed people’s lifestyles as a result of containment measures.

However, even with talk of a third wave, traders are picking up the pieces to sustain themselves.

Traders in Chuka town have started reopening. 

Caution has, however, been thrown to the wind as preventive measures such as social distancing, washing of hands and wearing of masks are not being observed in markets. It is not different in the matatu sector.

Catherine Mbeere, a cereals' trader at the market, says Covid-19 effects have hit their businesses but they are struggling to remain afloat. They are optimistic of better days.

“With people having hardly any source of income, the demand for our produce reduced to a point that we closed down. We are back struggling with the hope that things will improve,” Mbeere said.

She said she is thankful to the Tharaka Nithi government for introducing an annual licence of Sh2,700, which is better than the prior payment of Sh20 per day.

“The greatest challenge is transportation. The fare is quite high due to the restricted hours of operations and we would really appreciate if the county government could come up with an idea of a big store around Chuka town where we as cereal sellers can easily access the products,” she said.

Doreen Kagendo, a fruit vendor, said the reopening of schools worsened her business.

Kagendo said before students went back to school, they would make more due to large food requirements by families.             

She hailed the county government for the support it has offered by providing security and ensuring that the marketplace is cleaned every Tuesday and Friday.

Joy Kendi, who sells vegetables, lamented that a lot of food goes to waste due to lack or low demand. She hopes customers will increase as the economy continues to recover.

Boda boda operators also have their share of challenges.

Rider Dennis Mwenda said they used to ferry passengers in the evening after work but because of the curfew, their customers to go home early and at times opt to walk due to lack of money.

Boda boda operator Erick Mugambi said they are having challenges with renewing their driving licences, buying helmets, and curfew restrictions, as well as some crooks posing as traffic police who extort money from them.

Bodaboda operators in Chuka town
Bodaboda operators in Chuka town
Image: Jackline Mwende

“The crooks pose as police officers and if their tricks of extorting  money fail, they tell us to accompany them to the police station only for them to disappear on the way,” Mugambi said.

The worst hit are the bar operators.

Tharaka Nithi County Bar Owners Association chairman Nicholas Mutua said Covid-19 presented the worst business experience since he ventured into sale of liquor in the 1990s.

“The coronavirus pandemic has left a very long-lasting dent on the alcohol sale businesses. The modalities to observe the accompanying curfew and observance of the requisite social distancing were so tough that many were forced to close shop and are yet to recover,” Mutua, who operates Jombas Bar in Chuka town, said.

He said the curfew and other Ministry of Health Covid-19 protocols made it difficult to meet their overhead costs, causing conflict with the landlords and eventual closure.

To add insult to injury, most of their customers lost their sources of income, making it a double tragedy for the bar operators.

"Most of our youth who used to frequent our bars were mostly involved in odd jobs to earn their daily bread but with coronavirus pandemic, many of them were laid off, forcing them to migrate to bootleg drinks,” Mutua said.

And even if the economy is returning to normalcy, the time available for revellers is not enough as they have to be pushed out at 9pm.

“We hope in his next address to the nation, President Uhuru Kenyatta will review the curfew time beyond 10pm to allow us more time as we struggle to recover from the losses already incurred since the pandemic hit our country,” Mutua said.

He further urged Tharaka Nithi county to offer relief on levies imposed on micro-finances to allow those in operation to get soft loans to boost their stock and for those who were pushed out of business to bounce back.