/ 22 October 2008

Global credit crisis trickles into Africa

It has been a tough year for Peter Kinywa, a trader in one of Nairobi’s Masai markets.

Business has plummeted as tourists stay away from Kenya following the bloody post-election chaos early this year, and soaring food and fuel prices have put more pressure on his dwindling budget.

Yet the misery looks set to continue for Peter (45) and others like him as the effects of the global credit crisis begin to trickle into Africa.

Africa’s economy has so far remained relatively unscathed by the global financial meltdown, largely due to its limited exposure to global markets.

But Africa’s economies are not immune, only isolated, and Kinywa says he is already beginning to feel the pinch.

”The crisis is affecting us even now,” he says, standing in front of his stall littered with chunky and colourful paintings of giraffes, lions and zebra. ”The whites are buying less — volume has gone down in the last few weeks.”

”Tourists — and even some expats — either have less money or the worry about the problems is at the back of their minds,” he adds.

A glance around the market, set up in the car park of a popular mall in one of Nairobi’s affluent residential districts, seems to confirm Peter’s story.

There are only a few customers winding their way along the narrow lanes between the blankets stuffed with trinkets, and competition for their attention is fierce.

After the year Peter has had, a further downturn in business is the last thing he needs.

Sales fell by 75% this year due to the tourism drop-off, which followed on from the post-election battles that saw over 1 100 people shot or hacked to death in ethnically based violence.

Then there is the massive increase in food and fuel prices, driven by both global and local factors.

Inflation in Kenya stood at 28,2% in September. It has averaged just over 22% for the whole year so far.

For Peter, who lives with his wife and three children in a small apartment on the edge of one of Nairobi’s slums, this has forced serious cutbacks.

”We are straining to make ends meet,” he says. ”We don’t eat as well as we used to and we are struggling to meet school fees.”

Peter’s main concern now is that the tourists, his main source of income and one of the mainstays of Kenya’s economy, are now not going to return in the short-term.

Prior to the global crisis, Kenya’s tourism industry was predicted to get back on track at the start of next year.

But economists are now warning that the knock-on effect of the crisis in developed nations will see sectors such as tourism in developing nations hit as people cut back on luxury spending such as travel.

But Peter says that come what may, he and his family will somehow survive.

”In this business, you don’t need as much capital and can just tighten your belt,” he says. ”We are resilient.” – Sapa-DPA