Mr. Wandere Maina, a trader who supplies equipment such as tents and chairs to major events like rallies is one of the many traders whose business prospects have been largely affected by the spread of the coronavirus.
It took Wandere 10 years to build his company from scratch to employing over 600 employees. It took the flu virus a few days to bring this number down to 50.
After the first case of Covid 19 was discovered in Kenya, the government directed that all public gatherings and rallies be called off in order to contain spread of the flu virus, leaving Wandere with virtually no one and nowhere to supply equipment to.
From employing over 600 employees he now has only about 50 employees left working for him. Much as the massive lay-offs pain him, there is not much he can do about it.
Another trader, Loise Njeri, who has been running a successful hotel business in Nairobi, finds herself in a similar predicament. Speaking to her, Loise does not sound as excited as she would have sounded some two weeks ago, reason being where as she used to open shop early and close late, now she opens late and closes early thus getting lower returns.
After government discouraged dining in hotels, the number of customers she has been receiving in the past one week has significantly gone down. She is grappling with how to meet rent and taxes at the end of the month amidst heavy losses incurred.
Whereas other eatery businesses have the option of shipping goods to customers based on the orders they have received online, she does not have that option and so has to contend with lower sales. Her business is only accessible to people who pass by her premises while going about their business and her regular customers.
The emergence of the corona virus has similarly taken many other businesses by surprise. Only those with systems such as websites and e-commerce platforms that enable them to carry on with business as usual while maintaining slightest contact with the flu virus are still counting profits as they did before.
As Mr. Felix Mbugua, a tech enthusiast and CEO of web design firm Legibra notes, unfortunate as the abrupt emergence of Covid 19 is, it also comes as an eye opener for businesses to integrate new technologies into the functionality of their businesses so that whenever such an eventually crops up again, they will be prepared.
“The spread of the virus is still relatively under control in Kenya, though even as we remain optimistic that the authorities will be able to effectively contain it, it may be too early to assess the full impact that the virus is going to have on our economy and how long it is going to take us to get back on with our normal lives,” said Mr. Mbugua.
With schools on lock down and companies urging people to work from home, new technologies such as internet of things and artificial intelligence could facilitate students to get an education online, business leaders and manufacturers to run and monitor their businesses all day long with very little reliance on human capital, and customers to purchase goods from retailers without even visiting their shops.
“Businesses that do not have an online presence are going to have a big challenge this time because people are going to be buying goods online,” noted Mr. Mbugua.
Indeed, all over the world, new technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things have significantly boosted economic prospects of digitised businesses.
In America for instance, e-commerce giant amazon is reportedly struggling to hire over 100,000 workers for delivery services to meet the growing demand and shift to digital shopping. The retailer will be targeting people who have lost their jobs following closure of companies they used to work in.
According to Felix however, not all hope is lost because after all necessity is the mother of invention. We could come out of this stronger than we anticipated and find better ways to go about our businesses.
He is encouraging more and more business people to sign up for websites in order to boost their online presence and thus be able to carry on with business as usual while we wait for things to get back to normal.