Business bears brunt of protests as stock market indifferent

People run for cover after police threw tear gas

People run for cover after police threw tear gas at protestors in Nairobi, Kenya on January 20, 2023. PHOTO | WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG

The business community bore the brunt of Monday’s protests led by the opposition, even as the financial markets remained indifferent to the street action that featured sporadic violence.

Businesses in most parts of Central Nairobi remained shut for the better part of the day as Azimio La Umoja One Kenya supporters engaged the police in running battles in protests that saw at least one person shot and hundreds of others arrested.

Nairobi’s city centre remained deserted with premises staying shut as anti-riot police pushed back the protesters attempting to access Moi Avenue and Parliament area.

Read: Anti-government protests bring business to standstill in Nairobi

Traders, especially those selling groceries, clothes, shoes, mobile phones and fast food, were on high alert with the sound of grills hitting the floor becoming the norm amid clouds of teargas.

But the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) defied the day-long demonstrations, with Safaricom staging a 9.79 percent gain to close at Sh17.95 as investors bought into the counter that had been battered for days to record lows.

The stock market gained Sh56.57 billion to close at Sh1.66 trillion from Sh1.61 trillion on Friday, halting a steady decline that has been witnessed in the past few weeks.

It was the biggest single-day gain since September 6 last year, indicating that investors were eyeing bargains and looking beyond the current chaos that disrupted private business and government operations in the capital.

The market was expected to continue its slide Monday as the heated political temperature adds to the dollar shortage and rising interest rates in the developed world – issues that have sparked foreign investor exit from the NSE.

Read: NSE drops Sh226bn as sell-off hits Safaricom, KCB hit

“There is no reaction. Local markets are not reacting and, in fact, Safaricom is getting full bids and is ploughing back. The other stocks are flat,” said Kenneth Minjire, a senior associate for debt and equity at stockbroker AIB-AXYS Africa.

Organisers of the protests against the Kenya Kwanza administration say they want to address the runaway cost of living while terming the government ‘illegitimate’.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua claimed that the country lost around Sh2 billion in terms of business following the protests sparked by anti-government calls from opposition leader Raila Odinga. He did not explain how he arrived at the financial loss.

“It is a big loss to traders and we hope our leaders will consider dialogue to shield us from further pain,” said Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Alliance of Kenya chairman Ben Mutahi.

Mr Odinga last week urged his supporters to take part in a nationwide demonstration demanding that President William Ruto lower the cost of living. At 2.39pm yesterday, the opposition leader emerged from Serena Hotel amid cheers from hundreds of supporters that had lined up the streets of Nairobi.

“I’m counting today as a wasted day even as I ponder on how the rent will be paid in the coming weeks,” said Kennedy Kinyua, a stall operator in Ngara.

Most traders, just like was the case in other city locations, kept off their premises as a precaution against losing their wares.

Banks and supermarket chains kept their doors shut as Kenyans stayed on the edge, choosing to follow live broadcasts of the procession from Serena Hotel passing through Kamukunji market, Eastleigh, Juja Road and Mathare.

An Uber driver who identified herself as JayB noted there were a lot of surge requests on the taxi-hailing app but drivers were apprehensive to service them.

“We cannot access town because the protesters have barricaded the roads and we fear our vehicles may be vandalised,” she said.