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Cushion urban poor to cope with possible lockdown

Wednesday March 25 2020

A woman selling omena in Kibera

A woman selling omena in Kibera, Nairobi. Many in our slums depend on wages from manual jobs that have no job security. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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With a lockdown appearing more imminent than ever, we now must shift our attention to the survival of the population during the closure days.

As we all know, sound planning will ensure greater success of the move. The impact of the lockdown will affect each segment of the population differently.

In my view, rural economies have local solutions and would handle the lockdown with relative ease. Consequently, our real focus must shift to the urban poor who reside in the informal settlements.

Numerically, our urban areas are largely inhabited by the middle and low class people. Many in our slums depend on wages from manual jobs that have no job security. These are construction jobs, factory workers and domestic workers.


A bigger lot are also engaged in the SME sector as traders, distributors and service providers. As is evidenced by the kadogo economy, their purchasing power is low and they often buy commodities in the smallest quantities. Any marketer familiar with this segment will tell you that mini-packaging for this segment is critical to success.


They are low on savings and their instinct revolves around survival. When the job is over, families have to skip meals or share houses until the next door opens.


Unlike their rural counterparts, they pay rent and all their food is through purchase. A majority of them are unemployed and therefore dependents. This is the group who will find the lockdown most cruel.

Another challenge of our urban life is the food distribution channels. The mama mboga system relies on near daily replenishing of stock from the brokers and sellers at the markets.


In order to feed the population under lockdown, an efficient food distribution system is necessary. Without this, the food prices will rise in the first few days due to unavailability.

While the survival may be difficult, we can all work towards a system that ensures the lowest in the community is cushioned against a lockdown on an empty stomach.

We therefore wish to urge well-wishers and charities to activate a food appeal channel for the poor. County governments can contribute and manage the distribution while ensuring compliance to the public health advisory.

Remember that a lockdown would only work when all populations are kept indoors.

The writer is the governor, Nakuru County. Email [email protected]