COVER STORY

Campus life and the kibandaski economy

They often serve ‘chapo dondo’ to broke students and other Kenyans

In Summary

• Roadside restaurants are real saviours to comrades and a boon to their proprietors

• Men like them more than women, and some students even work there for a meal

A student eats in a kibanda. Chapati and beans is a favourite meal for many campus students
A student eats in a kibanda. Chapati and beans is a favourite meal for many campus students
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

Small restaurants in Kenya, informally called vibandaski, are a lifeline to campus students and businesses, and thus a crucial part of the economy.

They are often characterised by old plastic chairs and very narrow dining tables covered with branded nylon clothes. The brand names range from various flour processors to soft drinks suppliers.

Rusty, old fans hang from atop the ceiling, spinning around hastily to try and cool the heated up environment. The teeming young customers and close proximity to kitchens that are just next to the serving areas make the rooms an oven.

The term vibandaski is derived from the Kiswahili word kibanda (shack), a reflection of their usually rough architecture.

They are more often than not crowded with broke college students, who go there to basically fill their bellies with some food to get them through the next lecture or night. Roadside campus restaurants are real saviours to comrades and a boon to their proprietors.

A menu in one of the kibandas
A menu in one of the kibandas
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

Peter Omondi is the owner of Mambuzi Café, a famous and popular food kibanda for college and university students in Tudor, Mombasa. His cafe has existed for more than a decade, and he takes pride in feeding the country’s top-notch academicians and professionals.

"These university students love my restaurant a lot. We serve them as our children more than customers. Besides, they also give us jobs,” he said.

“For instance, I have employed 20 workers here. I also get my income from this business. We love to serve them because it’s our business and duty. However, these children eat a lot, and sometimes our food supply doesn’t meet their demand. Some miss food," he said.

Omondi adds that most students eat chapati and beans more than anything else, and so they prepare that dish more than any other.

Interestingly, some college students serve in the restaurants in Tudor. Joseph Ochieng is one of them. He is in his fourth year of study at The Technical University of Mombasa.

"I work here during peak hours, that’s especially during lunch time and evening. Sometimes I get paid some money and sometimes I don’t. I also eat here, and so for the days that I don’t get paid, I’m made to understand because in any case, I eat their food. I’m kind of working for food, you see," he said.

Bryan Indigo at work. He juggles classes and work at a kibanda in Mombasa
Bryan Indigo at work. He juggles classes and work at a kibanda in Mombasa
Image: STEVE MOKAYA

Ochieng admits the food in the kibanda where he works and eats is of lower quality in comparison to other restaurants around, but it’s what is affordable, and he has no option.

"You see, I must operate within a budget of Sh100 per day. I can’t even exceed by 10 bob more because if I do, I will affect my future days’ budget. There are other restaurants on campus and around with tastier and more palatable foods, but I can’t afford their prices. Besides, I don’t want to stress my parents with calls for upkeep money, which might not be there," he said.

Most girls give the vibandas a wide berth, but some visit them for takeaway foods. Carol Rop eats in one of the more expensive restaurants in college.

"I tried going to those roadside food cafes but I didn’t like them. They are always crowded, and especially by men. You can’t eat comfortably and with peace. And your privacy isn’t guaranteed,” she said, sipping soda through a straw.

“For those reasons, I chose here. I’d rather pay an extra coin and eat in peace, in a cleaner environment."

This story first appeared on the digital magazine Star Sasa, accessible on Sundays for Sh10 by dialling *550*3#

Edited by T Jalio