Businesses came to a standstill in Nairobi and major Kenyan towns as Kenyans trooped to the polling stations to cast their votes in highly contested elections.
The traders, especially those selling groceries, clothes, shoes, mobile phones and fast-food closed their premises expecting little activity on a day the entire country’s attention turned to the task of picking a new crop of political leaders.
Business is expected to remain sluggish in the next few days as Kenyans wait for the outcome of an election opinion polls said is a close contest between incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for the Election Day to be moved back to the holiday month of December, arguing the August date set by the constitution was bad for business.
“The first half of the year has been wait-and-see. Most businesses will be shut for a week, and we’re in second half. We need to consider a referendum and revert to December so we don’t strangle economy and productivity,” said Kiprono Kittony, who chairs the lobby group.
“Due to past incidences, there’s a justification for business owners to be worried,” Mr Kittony told the Business Daily.
Latest official data shows that Kenya’s real Gross Domestic Product - total value of goods and services produced in a year - grew by 4.7 per cent in the first quarter of the year -- the slowest quarterly growth since 2013.
The 2007/2008 post-election violence resulted in many traders losing their wares and even lives causing many to be extra-cautious this time round.
In the March 2013 General Election, businesses remained shut for about 10 days following fears of bloodshed after only half or 17,000 of the 33,000 polling stations managed to transmit results digitally before the system was overwhelmed by some technical hitches.
Business came to a standstill as Kenyans stayed on the edge waiting for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to manually tally poll results.
Even mobile money agents as well as banking agents remained closed, with most customers turning to platforms such as M-Pesa to buy airtime, make peer transfers, and pay party election agents and mobilisers.
Most matatu operators kept off the road, with only a few public transport vehicles operating in the capital Nairobi.
On Tuesday, the Kenya Bus Service said it had “cut its fleet considerably” and would only resume full operations after the poll results were announced.
“We’re thinly operating. Even tomorrow we’ll be careful. Until results are announced, we’ll be cautious because of the nature of our business,” managing director Edwins Mukabanah.
Voters, who had hoped to travel upcountry where they were registered had a difficult time as most buses and shuttles were not operating with the available few having hiked fares.
An Uber driver who identified herself as Dee said business was very slow yesterday, having made less than 10 trips by 1pm.
Most office complexes also remained shut today, with shopping centres and malls remaining deserted as most retailers – who are the anchor tenants – were closed to allow workers exercise their right to vote.
The Nairobi Securities Exchange #ticker:NSE, commercial banks, and major retailers were all closed yesterday, but are expected to re-open today.
“Normal operations will resume on Wednesday August 9,” Barclays #ticker:BBK said in a notice to Supermarkets such as Uchumi #ticker:UCHM, Naivas, Tuskys, Walmart-backed Game, and Carrefour recorded huge sales as Kenyans stockpiled ahead of the polls.
There was heavy security presence on the streets of Nairobi and other major towns, with an estimated 180,000 police officers manning this year’s elections.
Even before the election mood set in, most traders in Kenya were recording sluggish business.
But it was a boon for those engaged in producing campaign materials such as posters, fliers, printing and branding t-shirts, caps, kangas, umbrellas, and jackets.