Kenya’s battered night economy is on the brink of collapse

Mtito Andei town was once a popular nighttime stopover for bus passengers

Lift curfew to save jobs, bus owners plead with the President

By The Weekly Vision

Thousands of small scale traders, who once made a living within the long-distance bus terminus serving passengers and truck drivers with food during the night, are facing a bleak future.

Traders, hotels, open-air eateries, bars and shops who always made a few bucks from passengers pouring from the buses to get refreshments, are currently making very little money as the buses stay away owing to the night curfew restrictions. The once-thriving sector along Nairobi-Kisumu-Busia-Malaba, and Nairobi- Mombasa-Malindi- Lamu, is facing near-total collapse due to Covid -19 night curfew restrictions.

Most trading centres that thrived on both the western and coastal routes have virtually become ghost towns, the once-thriving night economy is dead

Thanks to the pandemic, most trading centres that once thrived on both the western and coastal routes have virtually become ghost towns. The once-thriving night economy is dead. This writer established that many businesses along the Nairobi-coast route like Emali, Salama, Kiboko, and Mtito Andei have since closed down due to poor business. “We can’t open when there are no customers”, a trader said. Hordes of night passengers, who would alight on stop-overs for meals and refreshments, have vanished with the night economy denying hundreds of small scale traders a livelihood. 

Families are staring at bleak times ahead, unable to put food on the table due to the curfew. In Voi and Taveta a similar grim scenario is staring as hotels, restaurants and bars remain empty. On the western circuit, the thriving bus park hotels that relied on night passengers in Naivasha, Nakuru, Kisumu, Luanda, Busia and Malaba, are now dry ghost towns. Luanda famous for its Kienyeji chicken and must stop-over for most night buses is counting heavy losses with many traders urging President Uhuru to lift the curfew to save jobs and families from starving. “We can’t steal as we rely on small hustles,” they said, urging deputy president William Ruto who once sold “roast chicken” to bus passengers in Eldoret to intervene with “his boss.”

The effects of the paralysing Covid -19 night curfew are there for all to see along with the busy gateway on the Nairobi- Kisumu- Busia- Malaba international corridor. The route is the gateway to neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Northern Tanzania and the Eastern DR Congo. Previously it was the epicenter of a thriving night economy that now faces collapse unless President Kenyatta lifts the curfew.

Some of the traders have even wondered where KRA hopes to raise the billions proposed in the 2021-22 budgets if the night economy remains shut. Bus owners who spoke to us at Easy coach, Crown, Marsh Poa, and Kampala coach, some plying routes to Kigali, Dar-es-salaam and South Sudan all urged the President to lift the night curfew as it “no longer serves any useful purpose” as cross infections happen more during the day.

They expressed regret that Kenya’s CS for finance Ukur Yatani failed to announce measures to rescue low-income Kenyans thriving on the night economy.

Some of the traders wondered at the logic of using the restrictions to erode household incomes and force families to stare at starvation, “which is more deadly, hunger or Covid -19?” they wondered.

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