The Covid-19 is an unprecedented global crisis, affecting human health and economic welfare across the globe. The pandemic has resulted in a planet-wide economic slowdown that has affected trade, investment, growth and employment. The World Trade Organization estimates that world merchandise trade could fall sharply, between 13 per cent and 12 per cent. Both large and small businesses are collapsing as the economic effects of the lockdowns worldwide begin to solidify. Although the pandemic has affected many business activities across the world, SMEs have particularly been vulnerable to the repercussions of the crisis.
The effect on SMEs is especially severe, mostly because of higher levels of vulnerability and lower resilience related to their size. SMEs owners have experienced a significant decline in business activity and revenue due to restrictions arising from the pandemic, while most are struggling to stay afloat. The impact of the virus could have potential spill-overs into financial markets, with further reduced confidence and a reduction of credit. Under the current circumstances, about 33.9 per cent of SMEs are expected to remain open as businesses bear the brunt of Covid-19.
A survey by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and several institutions show that 87.9 per cent of SMEs are operating on less than 75 per cent business capacity. The SME impact survey revealed that 37 per cent of SMEs have already laid-off staff due to a reduction in business operations. Two-thirds of micro and small firms reported that the crisis strongly affected their business operations, compared with about 40 per cent of large companies. One-fifth of SMEs reported that they risked shutting down permanently within three months.
SMEs owners were finding it difficult to cover rent and employee salaries, most noted that it was proving difficult to survive in these conditions. Kenya is among countries that have introduced measures for SMEs that include a Credit Guarantee scheme to enhance access to credit and reduction of value-added tax and corporate tax. However, Businesses in Nairobi that are either slowing down or closing are finding it difficult to access government support.
President Uhuru Kenyatta approved the establishment of a Credit Guarantee Scheme with an initial seed capital of Sh10 billion. The State’s contributions are expected to be followed by contributions from development finance institutions and participating commercial financial institutions, which are expected to boost the funding for the scheme to at least Sh100 billion. The Credit Guarantee Scheme is expected to be operationalized by the end of October. The Central Bank of Kenya also issued measures to assist SMEs in the country such as extensions in loan repayment periods.
Data compiled by Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), indicated more than 5.9 million jobs had been affected since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in March 2022. The government has scrambled to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on small businesses by introducing policies to help them cope with short-term financial risks and long-term business implications. The move is meant to help prevent bankruptcy, encourage investment, reduce lay-offs and assist the growth of the economy in the aftermath of the crisis.