1 March 2013

Kenya: Panic Buying As Elections Draw Near

It is 4.25 pm. Shoppers are in transit in and out of Tuskys Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi. The hustle and bustle along the entrance is barely a representation of the crowded corridors and the river long queues that are inside the supermarket. "This is our peak time, the place is usually packed around this time but nothing like this," says Edwin Wamitila, a customer care representative at the supermarket. "This period of the year is seeing us smiling all the way to the bank," he adds.

In the heat of the Monday elections, urban dwellers are going beyond their way to make hay while the sun is still shining. A cautious approach towards personal planning needs to be in place to mitigate any risks, the shoppers say. The 2007/2008 post election violence claimed 1,300 lives and displaced more than 300,000 people.

Kenyans are preparing for any eventuality. Panic buying is 'the act of people buying unusually large amounts of a product in anticipation of, or after a disaster, or perceived disaster, or in anticipation of a large price increase or shortage.' A good number of Kenyans are buying goods in large amounts to counteract a potential shortage, as well as an act of safety.

Following the run out of supplies during the PEV period, Siema, a manager at a local organisation, said he is buying the basic commodities in time, to avoid the long queues this coming weekend or shortage as he experienced in the past election.

Njeri, 29, recalls how she and her family had nothing to eat, except sweet potatoes and cassava that she had earlier received from her mother in the village shortly before hell broke loose in 2008. "There was nothing else to eat, not even a packet of unga and when we found some, the prices had been quadrupled," adds Njeri.

Njeri, residing in Eldoret at that time, is among many that were severely affected by the shutdowns that surrounded that period. The head of stocks at the Nakumatt Thika Highway said since its recent launch, the number of customers is high. He says the numbers have doubled from last week. "We have tripled the stocks since the demand is much higher including this offer period, especially on essential goods such as sugar, maize floor, rice, cooking oil and toiletries," he says.

Boniface Mwangi, a cashier at Naivas supermarket on Ronald Ngala Street in Nairobi, acknowledges the queues have gotten longer, and that he has to serve 450 customers during his shift compared to the 250-300 during other days.

However, for some, it is business as usual. Rural dwellers like Wanjogu, a poultry farmer residing in Kiambu, is unmoved by the fear of violence affecting businesses. He argues that food is in adamant supply in the farms and shops rarely close. Others like Kanini, a vegetable vendor at Roysambu, are optimistic of the coming elections. Hence, she will not engage in panic buying.

The public call for peace by the leading presidential candidates has assured people that there will be no violence. The recent sharing and shaking of hands by the presidential candidates during the presidential debates and the national repentance held at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, led by Prophet David Awuor, has emphasised the need for peace. This call has been embraced by a majority of people though others are still skeptical and choose to play it safe.

According to Edward Owino, a marketing research lecturer and an emergency planner, people ought to maintain a stock list of vital goods at all times. This is intended to moderate excessive or last minute purchases, which may put a strain on supply in times of shortages or can result in a sudden increase in the cost of goods.

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