COVID-19 Lockdown: Mary Muthoni, Women in Business Network, Kenya

Updated: Jul 22


Mary Muthoni

All of us are locked down somewhere in the world.


As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic handcuffs nations and borders, I'm serving my sentence in Melbourne. All this while, I've been receiving and exchanging stories of lockdown with friends from all over. I spoke previously with Ronak Shah, CEO of QBE in Singapore.


The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.

Mary Muthoni is the President and CEO of the Women in Business Network, a national association of professional and business women based in Kenya. She is a receipt of the 2020 Uzalendo award by President Uhuru Kenyatta and winner of 2017 Devolution Warrior from the Council of County Governors. She was also the first-ever elected female national Director on the board of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Affluent Society (AS) spoke to her about her experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya.


AS: What is the lockdown like in Kenya?


I reside in Nairobi. Nairobi is the epicenter of the virus. Some areas in the city like Eastleigh had to be locked down due to a jump of the confirmed coronavirus infection. As a result of the restriction of movement in and out of the area, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, businesses in Eastleigh are struggling to get by. Authorities were allowing only essential service providers, like medics and those delivering food, to enter and leave the area. The lockdown heightened frustration in the Somali-majority neighborhood in central Nairobi. Many say they are unable to pay rent due to the disruptions on their business.


Post 21 days, the government opened up the area after intensive fumigation and extensive testing in the area. No movement in and out of Nairobi was permitted to ensure the virus is contained. Any form of gathering in Nairobi like weddings and parties have been halted to ensure social distance measures are followed. All public vehicles have been directed to carry a limited number of people to maintain social distance.


When the pandemic started, the government instilled curfew for everyone to be working from six in the morning to 7 in the morning. In attempt to return to normalcy, after 21 days, the government extended the curfew hours for people to operate from 5 in the morning to 9 in the evening. All restaurants and hotels were shut down. To re-open hotels and restaurants, all hotel workers were tested for covid-19. The hotels were directed to ensure social distance is maintained by customers. Also, there are hand washing jerrycans and sanitizers at the entrance of restaurants. All the customer's temperatures are checked before entering in the eateries. The government has given orders for everyone to wear face masks whenever in public. Anyone violating the given guidelines faces the law.


AS: What challenges did you face when the lockdown started?


These are my expected challenges:


1. People lost their jobs hence a lack of finances to cater to their basic needs. The food supply chain has been affected, causing more hunger in different areas.


2. Domestic violence in many families due to lack of money to sustain themselves, hence they blame each other.


3. More people are dying of other diseases like cancer because they cannot access hospitals in Nairobi. I fear to attend the hospital when suffering from another illness because I feel I may contract the virus. I was mentally disturbed by how I will cope up with the lockdown considering the harm the covid-19 may have on our country.


4. Since the school is closed, more pregnancies are being experienced.


5. Feeling lonely since I can't meet my family members outside Nairobi because the lockdown has taken longer than I expected.


These are my unexpected challenges:


1. Police brutality killing more people in an attempt to ensure the curfew hours are followed.


2. Sometimes sleeping hungry when my gas gets finished at night, and I cant refill due to the curfew.


3. Increased sex trafficking is now a significant challenge in society.


AS: How are you coping with the lockdown?


I have rescheduled my working hours to help me achieve my daily goals before the day ends, like opening my business earlier than I used to so that I can make more sales. I have also learned to work from home to ensure continuity in my business. I have downloaded apps like the zoom app to enable me to hold important meetings. Following the government guidelines is my new norm.


AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?


A rewarding experience is most people have opened up their minds. They are innovating more ways to make money like joining online working platforms, and business people have learned to operate online, thus creating more money. I am more innovative to stay connected and help each other during this pandemic. Working from home has saved me more money such as as the fare to go to the workplace. I can even work for longer hours to achieve more. My love for my family is now on a higher level since I have had more time to interact with them.


The unexpected upside is men have discovered housework and doing more childcare, which could lead to a lasting change in gender norms. It is at this time of pandemic when men are finally beginning to see how much work goes into running a home and care giving. I have become more disciplined since I set a target that I have to meet and also engage in other activities like training and pitching ideas. Staying at home has made me realize there is more potential within me. From working online, I have been able to reach more women for my business outside my community. Staying with my family for longer times has enhanced my love for them.


AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?


The government has extended the curfew hours enabling businesses to operate for longer hours. Also, the government eased travel restrictions in Kilifi, Kwale, and Mandera counties. The government has made it known to everyone that it is one's responsibility to curb the spread of the virus. By so doing, if people continue following the guidelines issued, the transmission rate will be lower, and slowly, we will be back to normalcy. All the places of work are supposed to have water for people to wash their hands and sanitizers at the entrance. Social distancing is mandatory for all vehicles in transportation and also in all eateries and restaurants. Distribution of face masks and sanitizers to all areas in Nairobi is taking place to control the spread of the virus. Any area where the virus infection spikes is given priority in testing.


Next up: We speak with Prithu Srivastava, about his COVID-19 lockdown experience in Indonesia.


The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including Avante, a wellness and yoga studio helping people with busy lifestyles to balance, rejuvenate, and enhance their well beings through yoga, face and body treatments in the heart of Singapore.

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