A Fresh Chance to Seek New Opportunities Amid Global Shocks

Kenya’s Private Sector Activity Declines In March On High Inflation

Port of Mombasa

The World is again on the edge over the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as well as the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past two years have brought many unexpected events which have significantly changed the way we do things. 

For one, the World is still fighting its way through a healthcare pandemic, which many hoped would be long over by now. On the other hand, the pandemic has bred a new set of challenges for individuals and businesses alike.

To all of us, a lot of adjustments have been made as a way of surviving the lurking threats of the constantly mutating strains of the virus. This has continued to pose an interconnected threat to our health and collective well-being rooted in social and economic disruptions. 

On the other hand, businesses remain profoundly affected by the negative impact of the pandemic. Although we noted a semblance of stability in the second half of 2021, the outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron became the curveball that threw the economic recovery off track and the global economy into a frenzy. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine poses a great economic risk that could hurt the anticipated post-COVID-19 recovery. This uncertainty has kept the global markets seesawing as investors struggled to judge the economic implications. 

Locally, the prolonged adverse impact of the pandemic on businesses, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), was too severe to recover in a calendar year. More would need to be done to ensure these businesses bounce back.  

Businesses are already juggling a slew of interconnected challenges, including ensuring the safety of their staff and customers, bolstering capital and liquidity, reorienting operations to meet emerging customer demand, and navigating convoluted and uncertain futures. 

Across East Africa, although recovery remains asymmetrical, the COVID-19 infection rates have fallen significantly. In Uganda, the government has opened schools and lifted dusk to dawn curfew after almost two years of hiatus. Rwanda remains a reference point on vaccine uptake. 

Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Burundi have seen economic recovery gaining momentum. In essence, economic recovery is central to their forward-looking agenda, whether governments actively manage outbreaks or return to normalcy.

Perhaps it is poignant to note that the threat is still alive with increased mutation of the virus. It’s probably correct to say that 2022 is the year to put the rubber to the road by revisiting past goals and turning them into action items.

The first step to achieving this is to support economic recovery efforts by solving the unresolved problems of 2020 and those that emerged in 2021. For businesses, this means the end of supply chain bottlenecks, improved liquidity, global mobility, and release of pent-up demand as spending power shore.  

Being at the center of the economy, banks must be at the forefront of economic recovery leading the rebound. And while at it, we must put environmental and social governance at the heart of recovery and long-term growth strategies; by supporting measures to tackle environmental dangers and accelerate the race to net-zero. 

Secondly, healthcare experts have projected a broader herd immunity (to the virus) driven by the wide availability of the vaccines and with the help of human ingenuity, as we learn to live with this novel virus. Global health officials and local health agencies are already ramping up efforts to expand access to vaccines whilst promoting booster shots. Individually, we must up the ante on COVID-19 by taking personal responsibility to limit the spread of the virus. 

While we acknowledge that COVID-19 will likely always exist at some level and become endemic, we expect its risks on human health will be significantly reduced, with a diminishing impact on economies and markets. This year marks the beginning of that point, and this stress the need to vaccinate a vast majority of the population swiftly.

Thirdly, digital agility. The past two years have been a reminder that digital lies at the heart of creating a new source of value, from digitizing products and services extended to customers to business operations trends such as remote work, cyber security resilience, and innovative solutions. We must be at the front foot regarding disruption and innovation.

Finally, aligning our aspirations with the government priorities. Kenya is heading to the election in the third quarter of the year. Historically for businesses, election cycles are considered mainly a lull period. We can, however, find the sweet spot where we position ourselves to grab, with two hands, any opportunity this event presents. 

While the future remains uncertain, we are cautiously optimistic that this year will mark an uptick in recovery and return to normal economic and market conditions.

Mr Joshua Oigara is the Chief Executive Officer of KCB Group.

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