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Kenya's tourism-dependent businesses struggle as pandemic keeps visitors away

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to job losses globally and Kenya is no exception.

This company which specialises in hand crafts is among businesses striving to keep afloat.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment doubled from 5.2 percent in March when the first Kenyan case was reported, to 10.4 percent on 1st September 2020.

The nation's once profitable tourism sector has particularly been hard hit.

The annual wildebeest migration for example saw a low turn out of tourists this year.

Many businesses which depend on tourist spending have seen a sharp downturn.

Kazuri Beads exports worldwide as well as catering for the tourist trade.

Founded in 1975, the social enterprise employs 235 vulnerable, single mothers to whom it also offers free medical care.

One hundred and thirty-five women lost their jobs from the economic shock dealt by the pandemic.

"Usually we have 235 single mothers working in the factory but right now we only have 35 women working. So mostly we depend on tourists but right now we are struggling to get orders to maintain the 35 single mothers. So from May to September is usually our peak season. We usually have traffic in the shop, but right now we have no customers coming at the moment," says marketing manager Rose Ayuma.

The women earn a monthly salary of $200.

Some had even applied for loans that they hoped it would enable them to realise their entrepreneurial dreams.

Spelling out the losses, operations manager Ronney Goes explains: "We don't get local sales and the exports have also dropped by 80 percent. What we have on the floor now is what we had before we closed down. So there are a few ladies that we have brought back out of 220, we have brought back 35 ladies who have actually come back to finish the old orders."

Bank obligations

Now the women can barely pay their rent let alone finance their bank loans.

"It has become difficult to feed and clothe our children. We feel like our lives are really deteriorating," says Beth Wachira, who has four children and has worked here at Kazuri Beads for 20 years.

"We have loans that we have taken from the banks but we are unable to pay for them even though they continue to accumulate interest. We are fearing for the worst. When we took the loans, we hoped we would have something that we would call our own in the future."

May to September is usually a seasonal peak. It's when many tourists visit Kenya to witness the annual spectacle of the wildebeest migration.

"This is the worst season ever in Kazuri because there is no single day we have ever closed the shop without selling a single thing. But in Kazuri, because of COVID-19, we don't see customers. We can close the shop even for a week without seeing one customer," says Ayuma.

With international travel restrictions tightening, businesses like Kazuri can't even begin to plan a future.

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