Lockdown of Kenyan Eastleigh commercial hub impacts the local economy

By Francis Kinyua

Due to increased community transmission of COVID-19, the government executed a two-week cessation of movement in and out of Eastleigh, Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday, May 6 2020. It immediately posed a negative impact on residents and thousands of business people who operate in the area. There was a heavy presence of security officers in all parts of the district, with roadblocks mounted at all major entry points to prevent movement in and out of the densely populated area inhabited mostly by natives of the Somali community.

For the first time in decades, the bubbling shopping malls, shops, hotels and eateries in the expansive business hub that draws traders from afar remained closed. The closure will hurt the bustling business district which is also a major source of employment for thousands of workers who walk there every morning for menial jobs from the surrounding Majengo, Mathare, and Huruma slums.

The closure of businesses, including expansive malls, restaurants and markets will affect mostly small traders who have a hand-to-mouth livelihood. Those engaged in hawking, house chores, loading and cleaning services will suffer a severe economic impact.

Mary, a mother of three, who lives in Majengo slums but earns her living doing house chores says “I am thinking of how I will evade the roadblocks and [get] close to the other side,” she added, “If the government can give us food, we will stay at home. If they don’t, we will disobey the orders.” Mary further asks: “how will I feed my children? Where will I get money to buy food and rent for her single roomed house?”. She confesses “I fear corona […] but it is the horror of hunger that has brought me here”.

John, a hawker, is equally apprehensive. His working area is within the Eastleigh’s First Avenue which is currently occupied by armed security officers, enforcing the orders. “It is us, the poor, that will suffer,” he said.

While slum residents are worried about COVID-19, hunger, rising crime and avoiding police beatings are much more pressing issues. “We are hand-to-mouth, people are sleeping hungry,” a young resident said. “If you defend against coronavirus this way, many people will die of hunger.”

Simply staying home is rarely an option for them, as it often means giving up work and basic necessities like food, water and sanitation. Slum residents will face government violence for not obeying curfews and other restrictions.

Most people living in the slums are already stretched beyond limits financially and are unable to sufficiently protect themselves or seek adequate healthcare should any of them be infected. While a good diet, enough sleep and reducing stress levels have been advised to increase our immunity and fight coronavirus, many people living in informal settlements cannot achieve this.