COVID-19 EFFECT

Coronavirus hit on economy: A drive from Western to Nairobi

The bus park in Kisumu is almost a ghost town with the absence of buses.

In Summary

• Driving along the Nairobi-Kisumu highway, one is shocked at how much life has changed in less than a month.

• But perhaps the hardest hit is public transport since the government banned entry and exit of passenger vehicles in and out of Nairobi on April 6.

A medical official takes a resident's temperature at Meru Level 5 Hospital.
COVID-19 FEARS: A medical official takes a resident's temperature at Meru Level 5 Hospital.
Image: DENNIS DIBONDO

The damage caused by Covid-19 to the economy in Western Kenya is palpable and visible.

Stretching all the way from Luanda, Majengo and Kisumu and to Nairobi, the pandemic’s claws are visible – deep and painful

Major and small towns, markets and hitherto bustling shopping centres are struggling amidst Covid-19 containment measures.

Driving along the Nairobi-Kisumu highway, one is shocked at how much life has changed in less than a month.

But perhaps the hardest hit is public transport since the government banned entry and exit of passenger vehicles in and out of Nairobi on April 6.

In downtown Kisumu, for instance, from the buses that end their trips at the country bus stop, to the prestigious shuttles and the dodgy Toyota Voxy matatus,  the city is feeling the heat of the measures.

The bus park in Kisumu is almost a ghost town with the absence of buses. The stage is now being used by matatus headed to other towns.

The fishing and food industry has not been spared. Fishermen lament that the 5pm-7am curfew has interfered with their daily routine as they cannot fish at night. When I arrived at Dunga Beach around 8:30am, the boats were docking but only vendors interested in omena had a smile on their faces.

Crowds and establishments that depend on the outlet for their daily fish were disappointed as they could not get any fish that Thursday morning. The nearby Hippo Point, well-known for its open-air fish eateries was flooded.

Out of Kisumu towards Ahero, one quickly notices how traffic has reduced on the usually busy road that serves as an exit and entry route to Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo and South Sudan.

This is the new phenomenon all the way to Nairobi.

Past Awasi town and as one starts to ascend towards Kericho, the vendors selling fresh produce on the roadside have suddenly increased and so are their wares. 

This is because most markets in the towns along the road have been closed to contain the spread of coronavirus. 

Driving through Kericho, well-known for its tea growing, one cannot fail to notice the numerous hand washing points in the town. At every turn and corner, there’s water and soap for one to wash whether walking into a supermarket or a bank. I couldn't get a place to drink tea as all restaurants have obeyed government directives and closed down. 

James Kitur, an attendant at one of the supermarkets, tells me most restaurants and hotels closed down as they had no patrons after the directives on how food should be sold.

Past Kericho to Chepseon in Kipkelion, the robust vegetable market by the roadside is non-existent after police once used teargas to disperse the traders who were not following Covid-19 advisory by the Ministry of Health.

Also gone are chicken vendors because their main clients were commuters between Nairobi and Western. 

A few kilometres away at Kedowa, the little town with more butcheries than any other shop, is also affected. Bernard Chelule, a butchery operator,  says sales plummeted immediately the travel directive was issued as his main clients were travellers to Kisumu, Kisii, Kakamega, Busia from Nairobi.

"Now I rely on locals and my sales have dropped drastically,” Chelule says, as I order two kilos of meat to compensate him for the brief interview.

He also had to close an eatery next to the butchery to comply with the directives.

At Mau Summit, on the Nakuru-Eldoret Road, its business as usual.  As soon as I slow down, my car is swamped by traders offering their wares. 

The scramble for the few cars stopping by to buy at the market is a testimony of the hard economic times facing these traders.

I pick out an elderly woman who said before Covid-19, she would sell a whole sack of green maize. It happened I was her first buyer on this day.

As I get to Nakuru a few minutes past 1pm and find my way to Westside mall, I notice the traffic has reduced. The place is popular with travellers who stop by to get some bite. 

The Java restaurant and KFC are only selling takeaway meals. Heading to Naivasha, I notice popular spots that travellers on the route patronise are quiet. Clearly, business is bad.

The usually busy eateries and a mini supermarket at Delamare are barely operational.

Seats in the restaurant have been turned upside down and a tape indicates there is no sitting space.

ROADBLOCKS

The first stop is on the foot of Kingungi climb, immediately you exit Naivasha town. Police officers manning the roadblock demand for identification.

The second roadblock is after Limuru town, where the dual carriageway to Nairobi begins. This is manned by mean-looking GSU officers.

Boda boda operators are still contravening the cessation of movement directive as I notice an officer in hot pursuit of a rider attempting to use a muddy path to get to Nairobi.

The officer succeeds to thwart the attempt.

He relaxes and we engage in some light banter about the roadblock, the pandemic and of course those out to breach the ban to get in or out of Nairobi.

"Kenyans are bizarre, some attempt to get into Nairobi and when we stop them, they vow to sneak using illegal routes,” a GSU officer says.

As I descend from St Paul’s university towards Ruaka, I am waved to a stop for yet another check manned by Administration Police officers. A female officer approaches me and demands to know where I am going.

“Nairobi”, I respond. But before she waves me on, she wants to know where I have come from.

I finally get back to Nairobi after a month.