Covid-19 restrictions leave small-scale traders in misery

Ms Joyce Nalo at her stall in Mombasa. 

Photo credit: Brian Wachira | Nation Media Group

Of the eight years Ms Lorraine Mwangi Wanjiku from Mombasa County has been in business, 2020 was the worst.

This is the year she almost closed shop due to the hard-hitting coronavirus pandemic.

The businesswoman who deals in new clothes says she is currently trying to survive, as the income from her shop is too little to sustain her needs.

“Business in the past one year has been challenging. The struggle started around July. It wasn’t immediate, though. I used to get my goods mostly from Nairobi and Tanzania… but this was hampered by cessation of movement in and out of Kwale, Kilifi, Nairobi and Mombasa counties,” Ms Wanjiku told

Ms Lorraine Mwangi Wanjiku at her shop in Mombasa. 

Photo credit: Brian Wachira | Nation Media Group

She says when Covid-19 struck, she was forced to start using courier services to get merchandise, which was not only expensive but time-consuming.

“I faced challenges in sourcing stock and the prices also rose. Sometimes you would not get what you expected,” she adds.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Ms Wanjiku says, most customers were unable to visit her stall near the Mombasa branch of the Kenya National Library Services and she had to introduce offers to entice them.

“At times I’d sell on credit due to low purchasing power among my clients, some of whom had lost their jobs,” she explained.

Towards December, the month when traders would ordinarily make the most sales, business had not picked up.

Tougher restrictions 

When this year started, she was full of hope, but this dimmed with the second and third wave, which saw tougher restrictions being imposed by the government to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

“The third wave hit really hard. Despite trying to put up a spirited fight, most of my friends gave up and closed shop. We are just trying to survive,” she says. “People have had to share to ensure each other’s survival. I had two shops and had to let go of one since I could not afford to pay the rent.”

In 2019, before Covid-19 struck, she would comfortably make between Sh6,000 and Sh8,000 a day. However, in 2020, her daily income reduced drastically.

“Now I make Sh1,500 on average and there are days when I make nothing at all,” she says.

Ms Wanjiku says during the first phase of the pandemic, they got a two-month rent waiver from from her landlord.

“The landlord has been fair and understanding but after the virus persisted, we paid in bits,” she reveals. “We no longer get walk-in clients. In the past this place was a buzz of activities but since Covid-19 struck, we have seen our colleagues wind up as others shift to hawking their wares.”

Online business 

Technology has, however, enabled her to remain in business as she also sells her clothes via social media platforms.

“We are relying on social media and other online platforms as well as referrals to market our products and to reach clients,” Ms Wanjiku explains.

A few metres from her stall, Ms Joyce Nalo, who sells second-hand bedsheets and towels, is also in the same predicament.

Ms Nalo says her business has been heavily affected by Covid restrictions. 

Photo credit: Brian Wachira | Nation Media Group

“Business has deteriorated. Before the deadly virus, I used to have at least Sh5,000 at the end of the day. But currently, I sometimes make Sh200, Sh500 and other times nothing,” Ms Nalo says.

Ms Nalo says she used to buy a bale of towels at Sh18,000, but the price has gone up by Sh7,000, forcing her to double the selling price for the large towels to Sh1,000 apiece.

She has not travelled since the pandemic struck and this has made it challenging to access her stocks.

Ms Nalo noted the announcement of restrictions in Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Nakuru and Kajiado counties on March 26 worsened the situation.

“I find it hard to get mitumba from Gikomba market in Nairobi. I have had to rely on shipping, which takes too long (three months) to get here,” she explains.

The businesswomen hope the rate of infections will go down and that President Uhuru Kenyatta will then ease the restrictions and save their businesses.