Tough test for business as protests enter second week


Mounted police unit patrols along Tom Mboya street near Afya Centre Nairobi on March 20, 2023, during a mass protest, staged by Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga. PHOTO | WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG

Businesses remain between a rock and a hard place as protests called by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga enter the second week.

The business community is bracing for another day of mass protests called by the Azimio La Umoja leader, with Mr Odinga announcing that the anti-government protests would take place on Mondays and Thursdays.

It is a move that will prove disruptive for businesses going by Monday scenes where many had to shut shop, with some premises being looted and properties destroyed by a section of the protestors.

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) condemned the violence and looting that characterised the protests, as well as the decision by the Opposition party to direct its supporters to boycott some three companies.

“We made our views known so now we want to see whether they were taken into account,” said Carole Kariuki, the CEO of KEPSA.

Kepsa, in a statement issued last week, said that the violent demonstrations that resulted in the loss of property and lives undermined the future of the country, cause economic damage and cause apprehension and fear.

“Such actions also undermine the future generation due to disruptions in learning institutions. As we navigate through challenging times, both locally and globally, it is important for all sectors to focus on growing the economy and improving livelihoods for all Kenyans,” said KEPSA.

Last Monday, 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.

Activities at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), a barometer of investor sentiments, defied the day-long demonstrations with telecommunications service provider Safaricom registering 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.

Wesley Manambo, a research analyst at Genghis Capital, said that it was hard to tell whether the NSE would remain defiant.

However, Mr Manambo noted that given the huge role played by foreign investors at the Nairobi bourse, and who are now largely out of the market, the effect of the anti-government protests might be minimal.

“The fact that they are largely out of the market and their sentiments are widely shaped by the current developments in their own home markets would imply that markets won’t reflect this and if they do then it would be minimal,” he added.

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 the opposition leader.

He did not explain how he arrived at the financial loss.

Mr Odinga on Tuesday singled out three companies in his latest boycott call, alleging they had become enablers and facilitators of the Ruto administration.

KEPSA members are particularly distressed by the unjustified attack on economic drivers such as media, telecommunication and banking institutions that have been cited for consumer boycotts.

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