“This sector was among the worst hit during the 2007/2008 post-election chaos. Our businesses are often turned to looting grounds that in the end leave us staring at billions of shillings in losses. Some of the businesses are still recovering from the effects of the chaos more than eight years down the line,” Wambui Mbarire, Retail Trade Association of Kenya C.E.O. (June 14th, 2016)
The link between politics, the elections and Kenya’s economy has been under the microscope as we near this year’s polls on August 8th. In three of the five election years since the introduction of multi-party politics, the economic growth rate has slumped (1992, 1997 and 2007). With every election, the looming threat of civil unrest causes uneasiness particularly among Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME’s) who are among the worst hit by any post-election chaos.
After the Post-Election Violence (P.E.V) in 2007/2008, the economy is reported to have lost 3.7 billion dollars in the first half of 2008. According to a separate report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 117,216 private properties, small businesses included, were either partially or entirely destroyed.
Fast-forward to 2016, eight years later, and the anti-IEBC protests by the opposition rocked the country for weeks. The private sector in particular was left reeling by the violent and confrontational nature that the protests took. According to the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, traders are reported to have made losses in the region of Ksh80 million every day the protests were held. More recognised names in the game, such as retail giants Tuskys, reported losing at least 50% of expected daily revenue on the days the protests were held.
And the effects of civil unrest go beyond economic loss. It means lives lost, people displaced, businesses closed, jobs lost, families going hungry and so on. Images of the Ukwala Supermarket in Kisumu town which was looted and later burnt to the ground in the height of the 2007/2008 P.E.V are a stark reminder that 110 people lost their jobs that day. With all this in mind, then, the country cannot afford to go down the same route in 2017. That being said, how prepared are you for the upcoming polls? How ready is your business, and your staff, for the polls?
These are the questions that we were tackling this past week during an SME Forum held in conjunction with Bizna Kenya at the Memorial Park in Nairobi. We were privileged to host over 30 SME owners to discuss the potential threats to the business and how they can go about mitigating them. These threats range from security, such as looting, riots and vandalism, to economic, such as decline in foreign investment, business relocation or closure and consumer apathy.
Business owners should therefore consider postponing any significant investment decisions till after the polls. Most businesses have adopted a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to spending on infrastructure, expansion or even hiring of additional staff. For enterprises with more than one location, you could also consider moving any expensive operational equipment to branches in more secure or remote locations that are less prone to riots.
Owners should also look into upgrading their current security protocols. For businesses in locations prone to demonstrations for instance, you could reinforce their windows with steel burglar-proofing or impact-resistant film to mitigate risk. You should also consider reinforcing your perimeter, turning your premises into an impenetrable fortress by exploring a variety of perimeter security solutions like electric fencing, barriers and bollards and access control.
You could also consider spreading or minimizing risk by encouraging non-essential staff to go on leave over the election period, that is until the tallying of votes is done. By doing this, you reduce the number of employees who have to report to work and whose safety you have to worry about over this fluid period. Beyond this, you could also maintain a stock of dry foods, cereals, long-life milk and basic medication on site, just in case transport to and from work is compromised while you’re in the office.
It’s also advisable that you keep backing up the data on your servers and devices on a regular basis so that any physical damage to your systems does not result in loss of data as well. Another point to consider would be to train your staff on the precautions they can take in their homes to prepare themselves and their loved ones for the upcoming polls.
Lastly, you should also identify the polling stations and police stations around where you work and where you live. Most local public primary and secondary schools will be serving as polling stations, and this is where any unrest is likely to start.
Remember to preach peace everywhere you go!