How Mombasa businesswomen are mitigating inflation

Bahati Mwakoi (left) hands over cooking pots to Biasha Matao on October 24, 2022. Ms Matao is a member of one of the chamas that contribute money to buy home equipment.

Photo credit: Siago Cece | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Over the last two years, Bahati Mwakoi has watched helplessly as her business dwindles due to a struggling economy.
  • She is among the businesswomen in Mombasa who had to be creative and make purchasing easier for their clients by allowing them to buy items as groups.
  • The women contribute to a kitty where one’s contribution is pegged on the value of the item they want to buy. 

We meet her at her shop located Kona Mbaya, in Mombasa County. She wears a forlorn face – clearly, all is not well.

Bahati Mwakoi runs a boutique where she sells boutique Abayas (Muslim black gowns), dresses, deras, handbags, curtains, and cosmetics.

Over the last two years, she has watched helplessly as her business dwindles due to the poor economy prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic and now the biting drought and a struggling economy.

The 30-year-old says business has been getting worse by the day, and a few of her colleagues have shut their shops down.  

"Most people are grappling with the high cost of living and prices of commodities have shot up. They are only thinking about putting food on the table. As a result, businesspeople not in the food business are left struggling to survive," Ms Mwakoi laments.

Ms Mwakoi says getting a client to pay full amount for a commodity, at one go, is difficult due to the tough economy. She has had to be creative and make purchasing easier for them.

Before Covid-19, she would make more than Sh350,000 in sales every month, she says.

Pay bills

The profit has since dropped.                      

"I would make sales of more than Sh350,000 a month from my businessbut after the emergence of Covid-19, I hardly make Sh200,000. Most people are prioritising food. I had to be clever and quickly device ways of making it easier for my customers to buy my goods without breaking a sweat," she says.

It is through this business that she has been able to pay her bills and educate her daughter.

"I started selling chamas (merry-go-round groups), and this has greatly improved my revenue," says Ms Mwakoi.

Chamas offer women financial and social protection against turbulent times. She says the women contribute to a kitty. One’s contribution is pegged on the value of the item they want to buy.

Ms Mwakoi explains that if the clients (chama) want dresses, for example, they can choose 10 or more dresses depending on their needs, then form a chama and start contributing towards buying them.

Paying in cash for 10 dresses isn’t easy as one dress goes for Sh2,000 or more depending on the quality.

She has partnered with other businesspeople to enable her customers to buy different products.

“As businesspeople, we help each other sell. We have come together to ensure our customers get what they want through the chamas,” she says.

Ms Mwakoi shows a customer one of the clothes she sells at her boutique shop in Likoni, Mombasa County on October 24, 2022. 

Photo credit: Siago Cece | Nation Media Group

Shuena Idriss deals in kitchen appliances business in Mombasa. Like Ms Mwakoi, she says people’s purchasing power has declined and majority now live from hand to mouth.

The 28-year-old says Covid-19 saw many people lose their jobs.

“It is through this business that I have been able to support my siblings and pay my bills. I could not let it collapse. I consulted with my customers on starting a purchasing chama and they agreed,” she says.

She says customers with an interest in a particular machine come together and contribute towards buying it.

“The contribution is based on the item’s price. For example, 15 clients who want let’s say a fridge, come together; then based on their financial status, they agree on the amount they will contribute. Some contribute twice a month. I keep the money, and at the end of the month, two customers take their refrigerator home and the chama goes on until each member has their appliance,” she says.

She explains that the method has since been adopted by other businesspeople in the area to ease the burden for customers.

A customer, Khadija Juma, tells Nation.Africa that glamming a home is expensive and the option of buying home appliances through chamas makes it easy.

More sales

“I earn a salary of less than Sh50,000 and these groups have been quite helpful. I have built myself a two-bedroomed house and equipped it,” she says.

There are other similar groups that contribute to buy parcels of land, cement, tiles, iron sheets, and windows, among other things.

Halima Feruz who sells bedsheets, says she has been making more sales since she started the initiative.

“Inflation has pushed many citizens to the edge, many cannot afford basic commodities like food, so, I had to embrace this initiative,” she says.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data released two months ago, showed that inflation rose to the highest levels in five years last month, breaking the Central Bank of Kenya’s (CBK) ceiling of 7.5 per cent to hit 7.9 per cent.

The rise in inflation was mainly due to an increase in prices of commodities under food and non-alcoholic beverages (13.8 per cent); furnishings, household equipment, and routine household maintenance (9.2 per cent); transport (7.1 per cent) and housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (6.8 per cent) between June 2021 and June 2022,” KNBS stated.

Another survey conducted by the Pan Africa research network Afro barometer, whose Kenyan unit is based at the University of Nairobi’s (UON) Institute of Development Studies, showed that nine out of 10 Kenyans say the country’s economy is doing badly. The survey, polled 2,400 Kenyans between November and December last year.

Asked how they ensure nobody backs out midway of the chama, the businesspeople say they set rules that are to be adhered to by all members before they start.

"If a member backs out and you have already received an item, we take it back. However, we vet all members to ensure they are trustworthy; we also record key details like their physical address, a copy of their identification," says Ms Feruz.

Najma Mwinyi, who was once Ms Mwakoi's customer says she started her own business using chamas.

Several groups

"I used to buy curtains and abayas from Ms Mwakoi through chamas; in the process, I realized I could start my own business," she says.

Another customer Biasha Matao, says she has equipped her house with different items through the initiative.

“I am a beneficiary. I pay school fees for my children and buy household items through chamas," she says.

Sharon Akinyi who also runs a boutique, says she has been using chamas to sell her clothes and has not encountered any problems so far.

"Since I adopted the initiative, I now sell more than before, especially to customers who want to buy in bulk. My customers have become my family," she says.

Selina Ali, a shopkeeper, says the initiative is better than selling goods on credit.

"I was hesitant at first but upon trying, I realized that my business is improving. I serve several groups, which have helped me make new customers," she says.

The women are hopeful that their businesses will survive the hard economic time.