In his address to the nation last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta urged Kenyans to avoid congregating in places of worship.
He also called for “minimised” social gatherings such as weddings and funerals, which he felt should be restricted to immediate family.
In response to this directive, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), in its statement earlier this week, advised its members to postpone weddings.
In case one is to be held, the statement from PCEA Secretary-General Rev Peter Kaniah read, then the ceremony should be composed of a group of five only, “including the bride, the groom, the best couple and the officiating minister”.
The All Saints’ Cathedral Church also advised those whose weddings were to take place in the next four weeks to cancel them or make do with a 30-minute ceremony with only 10 guests.
Now, weddings are highly social affairs in Kenya, traditionally attended by hundreds of people, including distant cousins, aunts and uncles one has never met, as well as total strangers.
In short, a wedding isn’t a wedding without a big attendance. With this in mind, scores of Kenyans have been indefinitely cancelling their weddings, consequently dealing a blow to the events’ planning business.
Fatema Bhaiji, the founder of Aura Event Planners, said couples that had contracted her to plan their nuptials have cancelled them until August.
“The argument is that it took China around two to three months to contain the virus, therefore, it might take us the same time or longer to tame it. There is also the fact that travel is restricted, therefore relatives that would want to attend your wedding cannot – the business we were expecting in the next three months is gone. Business isn’t good right now,” she said, pointing out that the whole sector has been affected.
Among those hard hit are caterers, wedding cake specialists, photographers, jewellery shops, sound system providers and even MCs.
“This situation has had a ripple effect – if there’s no wedding, who are you going to sell your services to?”
But it is not just weddings that are being cancelled.
“We also plan events such as birthday parties and baby showers. These are being cancelled too, and unlike weddings, which can be held at a later date, you cannot postpone your birthday by, say, three months, can you? Lots of business has been lost.”
Clara Nato, the founder of Dreams Wedding Planner, is sailing in the same boat.
“There’s completely no business,” she says.
Two of her clients that were to get married in April have cancelled the plans until further notice.
“April is usually a high season for weddings in Kenya because children have closed school, but it seems that there will be no weddings this time, all have been postponed to an indefinite date,” said Ms Nato, who added that suppliers are set to make huge losses too.
The gloom is all over. “We’re at home, speculating and waiting to see how things will pan out,” said Ms Noela Muli, the owner of The Wedding Fairy, an event planning company.
A wedding she was planning, which was to take place today, was cancelled.
“I have been forced to close down my business and send my staff of five home,” she said.
LOW KEY AFFAIRS
The fate of two weddings she was planning to be held in April is in limbo. “The couples are hopeful that the situation will have been contained by then, so they haven’t cancelled, all we can do is hope for the best,” she said.
Funerals, also important gatherings that draw huge crowds, have become low-key affairs.
In its statement, the PCEA announced that funerals should be attended only by family members, and discouraged the traditional viewing of the body at the mortuary.
Normally, funerals are whole-day affairs.
In light of the government’s directive discouraging a gathering of more than 50 people, Kenyans have been forced to change how they mourn their dead.
Stephen Kihanya, a village elder in Gitaru sub-location in Kiambu County, said the number of people going to commiserate with the bereaved has drastically reduced since the first infection was reported in the country. So has the number of people attending burials.
“People are living in fear, they would want to visit their neighbours and friends to show solidarity, but they fear getting infected with the virus,” he said.