As massive job losses from the Covid-19 pandemic throw Kenya into one of the worst employment crises the country has faced, many Kenyans find themselves staring at the possibility of not being able to make a living wage to meet their basic living expenses.
It is estimated that at least one million Kenyans have lost their jobs or been put on indefinite unpaid leave as effects of the virus continue to bite.
Singer, internet sensation and Former Tusker Project Fame contestant Alvan Gatitu unwittingly found himself becoming the human face of this statistic after he revealed to his fans that he was forced to spend Saturday night in the cold when his landlord locked his house over rent arrears.
In a video clip that soon went viral, he admitted that he had defaulted on rent, water, and electricity bills in recent months due to effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on his job.
“My landlady and landlord waliamua wako na shida zao na mimi nikaenda zangu so mimi nililala nje (they decided they have their own problems and I have mine so I should sleep outside). Please note that as this was happening nilikuwa nimekatiwa maji na stima for one and a half weeks. Just trying to make ends meet,” Mr Gatitu said.
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
What followed was an outpouring of love and support from his fans as they jammed his phone line with calls and M-Pesa messages. So touched were Kenyans by his story that his M-Pesa account was soon full and could not receive any more money.
"I appreciate everyone for the little and much you have done...I don't know what to say. There is a God in heaven," he said in an emotional clip thanking well wishers for coming through for him.
According to Mr Gatitu, whose comical videos have earned him a huge following on TikTok, he arrived home only to find his house and the gate had been locked. The landlord would not pick his phone calls.
He says he requested a friend to host him but when he arrived at her place, he found that she had instructed security guards not to let him in.
“I don’t know how Covid-19 has affected you, but this is my story and I'm not ashamed of it. My last resort is right here where I found a place to sleep. I thought that this friend of mine could help me but as soon as I got to her gate, she told the security guards not to let me in. I then explained my situation to the guards who laid out a carton for me in their storeroom and gave me a duvet as well,” Gatitu said while holding back tears.
He says he tried to reach other friends but they said they could not accommodate him as “they also have their own problems.”
Luckily, he called the church he attends and he was sent Sh2,000 to find a place to sleep for the night.
“Of the money I got, I had to pay half of it for boda boda as it was past curfew.”
FIGHT SHAME, STIGMA
He explained that he decided to record and release the video to remove the shame and pretence that comes with celebrity life.
“There is a day that comes when you can’t put two and two together and even your friends will fail you, even the brightest fail at times. This is a message to everyone out there, I am here to remove the whole celebrity façade by keeping it real,” noted the former Project Fame contestant.
“I'm just here to remove the whole celebrity lie. You can trend for months and still have nothing going for you. You can be popular but still struggling and I’m here to remove the same, let’s not pretend,” he narrates.
Mr Gatitu could not hide his joy after the security guard let him spend the night in his small stall, adding while wiping tears that he would remember him for a long time.
His plight has touched many Kenyans, including local leaders who commented on his predicament.
Machakos County Governor Dr Alfred Mutua said he was shocked after seeing his story.
"A ‘homeless’ Kenyan celeb. This is what I was talking about today. We are so addicted to empty politics and personalities who are rich and comfortable. In the meantime majority are suffering," he said via his official social media handle.