Covid-19 market carnage: Buyers keep off Gikomba

Tuesday March 24 2020

A Ministry of Health official disinfects a section of Gikomba market in Nairobi on March 22, 2020. Markets have been identified as some of the high-risk coronavirus transmission spots. PHOTO | AFP


For the 10 years Ms Purity Gachu has been selling mitumba clothes at Gikomba market in Nairobi, nothing has posed a greater threat to her business than Covid-19.

Although high political temperatures during election campaigns and frequent fires at the market have been trying, for the first time businesses have taken a massive hit, with some considering temporarily closures.

Most traders started feeling the pinch last week as some moved their families to their rural homes while others considered temporarily relocating to the village.

“I am ready to take my children home. They came back from school on Tuesday. I cannot guarantee their safety here,” Ms Gachu said.


The Nation established that the main challenges resulting from the fear of the spread of Covid-19 were a sharp increase in the number of customers, as well as lack of stock.


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“The number of customers has gone down. We are also no longer getting clothes from our usual source. We deal in clothes from China, which are preferred by customers because they can get small sizes. Currently, we are getting them from the UK, which are usually big and don’t sell,” said Ms Gachu.

She said a few days after the virus began spreading, stocks from China disappeared from the market, only to be replaced with those from the UK.

She added that many customers are also afraid of going to the market because of crowding, while others want nothing to do with products from China.

Ms Monica Mugure, another mitumba seller, also said her profits had gone down drastically: “Usually, by such a time (noon), I would have sold clothes worth about Sh2,000, but now I barely get half the amount. There would be many customers but as you can see, this place is practically empty. It’s tough,” she said.

“But we have to persevere because we depend on what we earn here to cater for our daily needs. We must work in order to eat.”

When the Nation visited the area last Friday, there were no hand sanitisers or soap and water for washing hands as is the case in many establishments in the city.
Many of the traders told the Nation they had no option but to continue working.

“I can’t think of a situation where I am forced to close the business because I have many expenses, such as fending for my family, and paying rent and school fees for my children. If we close, I don’t know what will happen, unless the government provides us with food,” Ms Mugure said.

The government on Friday singled out the market as one of the high-risk transmission environments and closed it on Saturday for fumigation.

“Open-air markets, including vegetable, mitumba and bazaars are high-risk transmission environments. Tomorrow, we will embark on a major clean-up and fumigation, starting with the Gikomba market,” Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said.

He urged county governments to ensure all markets were cleaned up and supplied with water and soap.

“As far as possible, social distance requirements should be observed. For the avoidance of doubt, markets are to remain open until further advice, provided the directives we have issued are followed,” Mr Kagwe said.

Mr Meshack Mutuku, a trader at Gikomba, said: “If the government decides to close this market, we will really suffer. There is nowhere else we can go because this is the only job we know. We can only hope for things to get better.”