Kenyan Businesses, Insurers Weigh Risks Of Potential Election Violence

Kenyan Shillings

VENTURES AFRICA – As Kenya moves towards another election, the country’s businesses, ravaged by last time’s post-election violence to a cost of millions of US dollars, have been offered a window of protection for the next run out, in the form of civil strife insurance to cover lost sales and destroyed assets.

In 2008, many businesses were wiped out completely, after their operations were halted by the violence, leaving them with massive losses in revenue across violence that spanned for two months hitting small and big businesses alike.

It emerged that although most businesses had insured against fire, no business was insured against violence or civil strife, because no insurer in the country provided such a cover.

Kenya’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a body tasked with promoting business opportunities in the country, estimated that some $2 billion was lost within the first month of the violence. The tourism sector was hit swiftly and savagely, closing down hotels and taking out thousands of jobs as tourist numbers dipped due to travel advisories. Agitators who barricaded vital road cramped movement of almost all goods from the port to the rest of the country.

Data shows that an average 4,000 light vehicles,1,250 trucks and 400 buses carrying more than 10m tonnes of cargo to Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi use the Mombasa to Nairobi highway daily. But at the height of the violence an estimated 40 illegal roadblocks barred the way, meaning no vehicles could move, with some of the vehicles attempting to use the highway going up in flames, and goods being looted on the way.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), many small businesses – which employ 75 per cent of the work force – were looted, burnt or closed as owners fled. In Nairobi’s Kibera slums, home to more than 1 million urban poor, 800 business stalls were razed, six schools destroyed, 900 houses torched and thousands displaced. In other Nairobi neighbourhoods, gangs burned and looted the homes of 3,920 people and some 228 small business kiosks and stalls.

Kisumu another major town in Kenya, which was one of the worst affected, lost 80 per cent of its businesses. Three major sugar enterprises which employ 40,000 directly and indirectly support the livelihoods of another 450,000, curtailed production after cane fields and equipment were destroyed. Large tea producers saw their tea fields burned to the ground in attacks that took out years of established assets.

It was a plethora of destruction that sent both the insurance companies and the business owners back to the drawing board.

“We realized that we needed to do something about it and provide our clients with a broader choice and protect them against any such loss in future,” said Joseph Kamiri, marketing manager at UAP insurance in Kenya.

UAP was one of the companies that responded swiftly at the time, paying out to its clients who had insured against fire and suffered huge losses. “That was out of goodwill and we wanted to give our clients a sense of security in future,” said Kamiri.