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Shared spaces

Students live in some of Nairobi’s worst housing

by Alphonce Shiundu

In brief

Many students live in slums.

Many students live in slums.

Some of the worst housing in Kenya is occupied by university students who arrive at urban campuses from the countryside. Three of Kenya’s biggest public universities are in or near the capital city. When students arrive from rural areas, many cannot afford student housing or other individual accommodations.

They rent houses in groups or live in hostels located in slums near the universities. Such housing is cheap – albeit substandard. Sanitation, security and safety are secondary considerations for people who need a roof over their heads.

The picture is not much better for recent graduates. About 15 years ago, when I came to Nairobi after university, I stayed with my cousins in their home. After I got a job, I moved with my brother in a single-roomed house in a working-class neighbourhood.

Some of my new colleagues were less lucky and lived in hostels. Others shared a single room costing 5,000 Kenyan shillings (KES) (50 US$) a month in rent with ­others.

These rooms had thin mattresses on the floor for sleeping at night and sitting on during the day; a cooker atop a 5-kg cylinder of cooking gas; a small metal box used as a makeshift ironing board for clothes; and three or four 20-litre jerrycans with water for cooking, bathing and cleaning. The rest of the room was filled with clothes, a few utensils, and a bucket for trash. Bathrooms and toilets were outside, usually shared among many tenants.

With slightly more income, some residents can move out of a shared room to occupy bedsits. These are single-roomed houses in decent neighbourhoods with a toilet and bathroom, and often a sink in one corner that denotes a cooking area. The rent for these small houses is typically twice the amount of the one-room rentals – about 10,000 KES (100 US$) per month.

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