NO GAINS, MORE PAINS

What about us? Bouncers ask Uhuru as bars, clubs stay closed

In his latest Covid-19 address on Monday, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered bars and clubs to remain shut indefinitely

In Summary

• Most bouncers are struggling to find alternative jobs during Covid-19. They are calling their association, asking for assistance

• Bouncers complain they are despised and not considered essential security providers

Catherine Belinda at work before the Corona virus pandemic forced the closure of entertainment joints across the country
Catherine Belinda at work before the Corona virus pandemic forced the closure of entertainment joints across the country
Image: COURTESY

Under normal circumstances, Chris would take home Sh40,000 per month from his job as a bouncer in one of the entertainment spots in Nairobi.

Although this amount does not place him in the elite category, it is still enough to cater for the needs of his family of wife and three children.

However, this revenue stream has dried up after his employer closed shop as part of the government’s directive to curb Covid-19 infections.

“In my 17 years as a bouncer, I have never gone through a rough time like now. There are no other places I can seek temporary employment, yet my rent arrears keep piling and my family keeps starving,” Chris says.

He has been keenly listening to the Covid-19 updates by the Ministry of Health and is fast losing hope.

“As the infections rise, I keep asking myself whether the bars and nightclubs will be opened anytime soon. It is highly unlikely this will happen,” he says.

The expression ‘When one door closes, another one opens’ is fictional insofar as Catherine Belinda, 38, is concerned.

She thought a job as a construction worker would soothe the pain of being sent on a four-month unpaid leave by her employer, an entertainment hub along Mombasa Road.

“The mjengo (construction work) in Loresho was to pay Sh500 per day. Unfortunately, only a few of us who had turned up for the work were recruited,” she says.

In my 17 years as a bouncer, I have never gone through a rough time like now
Chris

SHOESTRING BUDGET 

 
 
 

The single mother of three children has the unenviable task of fending for her children and maintaining her fitness levels.

“These days, we eat only one meal per day or two, if we are lucky. We take breakfast at 11am or midday to coincide with lunch before we take another meal at night,” she says.

Gym workouts have been struck off her to-do list and replaced with morning runs, although the consequent hunger pangs have discouraged her from maintaining this new routine.

“Going for roadwork (morning jogs) means I have to find food thereafter. And with these many mouths to feed, how can I afford to even provide for my own nutritional needs?” Belinda says.

Although she negotiated a rent payment plan with her landlord, the eviction of her neighbours has her worried she could be next.

“There’s a neighbour whose door was welded to prevent her from accessing her house. I owe three month arrears of Sh21,000 and my landlord has started complaining he also needs to pay bills,” she says.

That Nairobi is a concrete jungle is a painful reality that has hit Oscar Mmeywa, 40, like an earthquake.

The former bouncer at Taurus Lounge in Buru Buru was sent on unpaid leave by his employer four months ago.

Oscar M'Meywa (far right) with fellow bouncers (from right), Humphrey Ateta, Jack Masika, Oliver Chikono, Derrick Ikatukha and Silas Makale at a past event.
Oscar M'Meywa (far right) with fellow bouncers (from right), Humphrey Ateta, Jack Masika, Oliver Chikono, Derrick Ikatukha and Silas Makale at a past event.
Image: COURTESY

FRUITLESS JOB HUNT 

Just like Belinda, he hit a brick wall while trying to secure construction work at a building site in Ruai, Nairobi county.

“The person who was recruiting the workers asked me to pay Sh1,000 so he could sneak my name among the list of workers. Yet I had even walked all the way to that place and did not have fare to return home,” Oscar, who lives in Mwiki, says.

Another job hunt at a car showroom at the Prestige Plaza yielded no kill in form of a job opportunity, as he was told business was low and the showroom had in fact sent its workers on leave.

With nowhere to turn, Oscar has been reaching out to former clients, some of whom are compassionate enough to lend him a helping hand.

“Sometimes I stay for two days without anything, then I'm forced to call some of my former clients, who I met in the nightclubs. Some are kind enough to send me Sh200 or even Sh500,” he says.

Before, he would take home a monthly pay of Sh25,000, which was enough to cater for his rent of Sh9,000 and the needs of his family of wife and two children.

However, just like the Jubilee government, Oscar has now resorted to borrowing money from friends as well as foodstuffs from shopkeepers.

So bloated is his debt list that Oscar admits he is now ashamed to walk in public.

“People look at me and wonder how a huge guy like me can be this broke. It feels like I'm a cripple because everything has come to a standstill for me,” the father of two says.

CRUMBLING FALLBACK 

For Wycliffe Mirembo, 32, his fallback plan as a barber is also crumbling as expenses of running the business keep increasing, while profits dwindle.

“I employ four people, who need their salaries to be paid on time. I also have to pay electricity, water and rent for the business, which does not make enough profits,” Wycliffe says.

Back at his house in Riruta, his wife and two children look up to him as the sole breadwinner, a responsibility that is increasingly wearing him down as his barbershop incurs losses.

“For them (children), they do not really understand that the times are tough. What they need to see is food on the table, without understanding the pains I go through to get that food,” he says.

Until the pandemic struck, Wycliffe was the head of security at Muthiga Inn Country Club on Waiyaki Way, a job from which he could make some good money.

“Being a bouncer involves less expenses compared to a barber. On one night, you could make up to Sh1,500. Now consider the fact you can work for up to four or five days, especially during the busy holiday season,” he says.

Each day he walks into his residence, he dreads the possibility of running into his landlord, whom he owes a lot of arrears.

NOT SO LUCKY

Whereas the aforementioned bouncers continue to trudge through the present wilderness bravely, others have given up midway through the treacherous journey.

One such bouncer is Evans Wabuke, 25, who reportedly committed suicide on July 20. 

Loice Ayuma, his wife, was shocked at the turn of events as the deceased had only two days earlier escorted her to board a bus to her hometown of Busia. 

"I knew that he was stressed about losing work because they were laid off due to Covid-19. We would manage through some odd jobs from where he would get some money to keep us going," Loice said. 

Evans was found in his house at Kariobangi North area, writhing in pain. Unfortunately, he lost the battle at Mama Lucy Hospital, where he was admitted. 

He leaves behind a wife and an eight-month-old baby. 

Israel Ikola, the chairperson of the Association of Bouncers of Kenya, says the cases of the aforementioned four are just the tip of the iceberg as the problem extends countrywide and even internationally.

“Bouncers working in other counties are going through worse situations than those in Nairobi because of lack of alternative opportunities. We receive calls and complaints everyday from our members, which is now in the thousands,” Ikola says.

Israel Ikola, chair of Association of Bouncers of Kenya, in past meeting with Fazul Mohamed, Director General of Private Security Regulatory Agency
Israel Ikola, chair of Association of Bouncers of Kenya, in past meeting with Fazul Mohamed, Director General of Private Security Regulatory Agency
Image: COURTESY
It is high time the government takes us seriously and improves our job security
Bouncer Oscar Mmeywa

SUFFERING IN SECLUSION 

Those in Gulf countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, are also surviving from hand to mouth as the effects of the lockdown in these countries persists.

“They would love to come back home but they do not have the money to purchase an air ticket. So most of them are going hungry and on the streets,” he says.

Ikola has been busy registering the association’s members, currently numbering 23,000, for social protection at the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

“The ministry has began doing a background check on the 700 bouncers who have been registered so far. Some of them have already received text messages and will be receiving Sh1,000 per week,” he says.

Regardless, the bouncers say the relief is akin to a first aid to mitigate the wounds created by the socioeconomic hardships created by Covid-19.

“Bouncers in this country are not taken seriously as security providers. It is high time the government takes us seriously and improves our job security, especially during dire times like this,” Oscar says.

Due to their intimidating physique, bouncers are perceived as people who are as mentally tough as nails and can withstand whatever life throws their way.

Covid-19 has shown they also have a breaking point, at which their psychological fortitude crumbles along with their world.

Edited by T Jalio