By Patricia Martinez
Nairobi, Jul 20 (efe-epa).- When Chinese tourists told Kenyan safari guide Michael Kimani about the coronavirus in February, most people in Africa were largely oblivious to the pandemic.
Five months later, the pandemic has forced him, like hundreds of rangers who roamed the savanna, to turn his SUV into a mobile fruit and vegetable stand.
“They came and told us: there is a disease in our country called corona. But for us it was like a joke, they were even giving us masks, we didn’t think that could be such a disaster,” Kimani, 38, tells Efe while sheltering a dozen cabbages under a tarpaulin decorated with a lion.
“The sun is not good for them,” he muses.
On 12 March, the Kenyan government reported its first Covid-19 case. By 25 of March, it closed its airspace and, 48 hours later, it ordered a nightly curfew.
Under the tight restrictions, tourism — and the two million jobs the industry supports — disappeared from the region.
“That was the first time I heard about corona and the last time I put money in my pockets,” Kimani adds.
The global coronavirus pandemic threatens to pull 58 million people into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, according to data from the World Bank.
The growing middle class, estimated at 170 million people or 14 percent of the continent’s population, has decreased by eight percent.
Salim Ahmed Omar, owner of the now-threatened Safari Exposure tour agency company, tells Efe: “We are actually at this very moment even down on my knees, almost on the brink of collapsing and dying.”
He discusses his worker’s salaries, adding that he paid them in full in March and April, before cutting wages to 50 percent in May.
“In June they have received nothing,” he adds.
Ahmed estimates that the losses incurred as a result of the reserves being closed until September will amount to $35,000.
With no safaris, there are also no jobs for the many non-contract drivers that agencies like his depend on.
These drivers are the ones who pick foreign tourists up from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport only to plunge them hours later into the most coveted African savannahs.
Martin Wanjohi, 48, a father of three was one of them.
He has been in industry since 1996, but now his modified Land Cruiser — equipped with six back seats — is used to ferry around potatoes, onions and tomatoes around the dusty streets of Ruai, a neighborhood in eastern Nairobi.
He is lucky to bring back around 500 Kenyan shillings ($4.70) a day.
“Just this pile of potatoes here, alone, costs about 500 shillings but people can’t afford it. They take the small ones and ask you to make it cheaper for them,” he says.