Major cities hit hard as residents struggle to stay afloat

Households across the country are struggling to make ends meet.

In Summary

• A majority of Kenyans (73%) are either in severe financial distress or struggling to make ends meet, a report by Infotrak released last week indicates.

• Most are pessimistic cost of living, school fees, energy, unemployment, cost of fertilizer, exchange rate against the shilling will continue to increase in 2024.

People in a Nairobi street/
People in a Nairobi street/

Most Nairobi residents are familiar with the phrase “Nairobi ni shamba la mawe” which loosely translates to “stone farm” where one has to work extra hard to put food on the table.

The capital city is standing out as one of the most expensive places to live in, a spot check by the Star, backed by several surveys and lobby groups shows, followed by Mombasa and Kisumu among the country’s cities and major towns.

This is because a huge percentage of Kenyans now rely on loans, credit cards, digital lenders and prior savings to cover their expenses.

This is on the back of high taxation, unemployment, reduced incomes, and an overall high cost of living, as highlighted by residents of the different cities, with many families living from hand-to-mouth.

Rent, transport, food prices and school fees are major worries for many households, with Nairobi leading the lot.

The Star’s spot check noted Nairobi has the highest rents with a single room having increased to Sh4,059, up from Sh4,015 on average, according to the latest Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data.

A one-bedroom at most estates in the populous Eastlands zone is averaging Sh14,000- Sh17, 000, two-bedroomed (Sh19,000-22,000) while a three-bedroomed house is ranging between Sh28,000 and Sh35,000, on average.

This is one of the areas housing a large number of city residents, mainly the working group and SMEs.

In Mombasa, a one-bedroomed house is averaging Sh11,000 to Sh15,000 in low-end estates with a two-bedroomed house going for an average Sh18,000-Sh20,000.

Rent and transport are key issues affecting Mombasa residents, the Federation of Kenya Employers coast region president Sam Ikwaye told the Star, even as businesses and employers struggle with high taxation.

“ The welfare of the people has deteriorated. Employers have to contemplate with high cost of doing business and the low productivity of employees who are struggling to make ends meet. People are walking to work, some even skipping meals to survive,” Ikwaye told the Star.

Kisumu rents are averaging Sh12,000-Sh16,000 for a one-bedroom and Sh22,000-Sh25,000 for two and three-bedroomed houses.

The city has also seen transport and food prices increase over recent months, pushing many residents off-balance.

Fares that increased by between Sh10-Sh20 on major routes are yet to come down despite fuel prices dropping for two consecutive months.

Food prices also remain high, Kisumu City Residents Voice (association) chairman Audi Ogaga noted, adding that residents are slowly moving out of city estates in search of cheaper rental houses in the outskirts of Kisumu.

For instance, fish that used to cost Sh250 is now going for Sh900 while indigenous chicken is going for Sh1,500 on the low end, up from Sh800.

Most schools have also increased fees, which has seen parents struggle to pay.

“Salaries and other small incomes cannot sustain families as we speak, it is a crisis. Our leaders must address issues affecting mwananchi and stop these politics. Instead of addressing real issues, they are already campaigning for 2027 when people are being auctioned all over with families going hungry,” Ogada said.

In Nakuru, rents are at Sh10,000-Sh12,000 and Sh17,000 to Sh20,000 for two and three-bedroomed houses, with taxation, food prices and unemployment a major issue.

Other towns that have reported similar trends include Eldoret, Busia, Migori, and Nyeri among others.

Residents of counties in arid and semi-arid regions are also hard hit by food shortages, which adds up to their struggles with other expenses, amid low incomes.

In Nairobi, fares on key routes remain high having increased by up to Sh30 on some routes, with peak hours seeing some operators charge double.

While the Matatu Owners Association (MOA) acknowledges the fuel price drops, it says members are still struggling with expensive spare parts as a result of costly imports, mainly on the dollar-shilling factor.

“To balance this, our members are charging minimal fares during off-peak, where for instance from town (Nairobi) to Githurai is Sh20. We are however talking to our members to see how we can bring down fares and pass benefits to mwananchi,” MOA president Albert Karakacha told the Star on the telephone.

The weak shilling, which is currently above Sh160 to the US dollar, is expected to continue piling pressure on households, with possibility of triggering inflation, which had gone down to 6.6 per cent in December, from 6.8 per cent in November, despite prices of key commodity prices increasing.

Foods whose prices increased last month include cabbages, beef, sukuma wiki and carrots, according to KNBS data, adding up to the costly transport charges, electricity and rent, as many homes struggle with a low spending power.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report on the well-being of Kenyans, expenditure per month per adult on food and none-food items averaged Sh7,811 five years ago, a figure that has sharply risen, worsened by the current weak shilling to the dollar.

On average, one spent Sh6,153 on food items, then, against the national average of Sh4,239.

On non-food items, one required Sh8,158 against the national average of Sh7,811.

With the current weak shilling, where Sh1,000 is estimated to be worth less than Sh700 of purchasing power, a huge number of Kenyans are living beyond their means.

A majority of Kenyans (73%) are either in severe financial distress or struggling to make ends meet, a report by Infotrak released last week indicates.

Most Kenyans are pessimistic that the cost of living, school fees, cost of energy, unemployment, the cost of fertiliser, the exchange rate of the dollar against the Kenya shilling will continue to increase in 2024.

“Among the areas the citizenry would need more support to cope with the economic hardships include reduction of the high cost of living, creation of employment opportunities, reduction of fuel prices, reduction of education costs, and reduction of the high taxation,” the research firm said in its report.

The hard economic hardships have had various impacts on Kenyans including; increased stress and anxiety (48%), strain on personal relationships (32%), physical health issues (21%), and mental health effects (18%) among others.

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