Kenya’s open-air market traders count losses amid pandemic


Margaret Mackenzie is one of the traders at the open-air Maasai market located in the downtown section of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which operates on weekends but has suffered losses amid COVID-19 disruptions.

The open-air market is renowned for its vibrant products from the nomadic Maasai community that range from wooden sculptures, beaded necklaces, batik wall hangings that often resonate with local and foreign tourists.

Mackenzie, a single mother of one, started selling jewelry at the market six years ago. The business was so good that she had never thought of quitting.”

I used to generate 16,000 shillings (about 145 U.S. dollars) profit in a week since most of my products do not require a huge capital. I make them,” Mackenzie told Xinhua.

However, Mackenzie’s business started dwindling due to the pandemic.”I used to sell one key holder for about 3 dollars but I had to adjust the price to one dollar so that I can get something to go back with at the end of the day,” said Mackenzie. Now she has to do an extra job in order to cater to her household needs.

Paul Mutunga, a veteran trader at Maasai market has been in the business for more than a decade.”I am watching my business as it goes down slowly. I don’t know when it will resume as it used to,” said Mutunga.

The Maasai market which largely relied on foreign tourists to remain vibrant is now forced to sell to local traders who buy the products at a low price due to pandemic related shocks.

“We have to pay a tax fee of 5 dollars, it may look small but if you have not sold anything for that day, where will it come from?” Mutunga expressed his worries. Mutunga is now appealing for well-wishers to offer him a job.

Pius Omari, a veteran trader at Maasai market whose products are tailor-made for the Chinese visitors said that it has been a herculean task to secure new clients since the onset of the pandemic in Kenya.

Omari sells products made from soapstone carvings that range from animal prints, African printed candle holders and carvings welcoming tourists like Jambo Kenya (Hello Kenya).

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of international markets has hit my business hard,” said Omari. He hoped the business can get through the pandemic and see a recovery this year.


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