It’s a dark time for traders who targeted universities


Mall records poor business after closure of Maseno University in Kisumu County. [Denish Ochieng', Standard]

Businesses have been devastated by the closure of universities.

At the heart of Maseno township along the Kisumu-Busia Road is Maseno University, which hosts at least 20,000 students who make the area vibrant.

But after the closure of the university, the area that used to bustle with activity is slowly turning into a ghost town, as traders feel the heat of the coronavirus outbreak.

About two years ago an investor put up a multi-million shilling shopping mall near the university, targeting students and the local community. Today, business is low, with only a handful customers trickling in.

Barely get enough

Susan Atieno, who owns hostels at Nyawira Maseno, says the pandemic has disrupted her income after students left the institution following government order of closure.

“The abrupt closure of universities has left us stranded, as most of us build rental houses on our farms,” Atieno says, adding that she plans to increase rent once the university opens.

She has resorted to selling fruits at a nearby market to make ends meet.

Rachael Wekesa, a widow, says life has been tough since the closure of the university. She has been struggling to keep her hotel business afloat after customers reduced.

“The business is struggling. I just decided to continue operating and serve the available customers than to close down completely. Nowadays we barely get enough to sustain our families compared to the days when students were in school,” Mrs Wekesa says.

Justin Ambula, a boda boda operator, says their clients are now mostly locals living around the university after students left.

“We now rely on locals for us to at least get some money to feed our families. The business is struggling and sometimes I only get two people to carry in a day, compared to when students were here you would carry more than ten people in a day,” Mr Ambula stated.

Elsewhere in Kisii, most businesses near Kisii University have closed. 

Divinah Kwamboka has been operating a cereals shop less than 500 meters from the university for four years. She recently had to close due to poor business.

“We have rent arrears and dead stock. The semester was almost half way and we had stocked enough to last to the end of May,” she says. At least two eateries closed after students went home.

Josephine Omani, who has been operating an eatery with a sitting capacity of 50, closed shop after incurring losses. “I have lost hope in the business. More than 10 staff are languishing at home. They can’t even feed their families.”

More than 50 boda boda operators stationed near the university’s main gate have also moved to different routes.

Ezekiel Omboki, a boda boda operator used to work till late, but since March, he retires as early as 6pm.

“Majority of my customers were students. I could carry them from main campus and from their hostels to town campus. On average I could fetch between Sh1,000 and Sh1,400 a day,” he says.

University Vice Chancellor John Akama says the local economy has been adversely affected. “The once busy road and vibrant economy has come down. Traders can no longer pay rent,” Prof Akama says.

In Bondo, Siaya County, traders are counting losses following the closure of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology more than three months ago.

Transport and hospitality industries are the worst hit, with the operators now shifting to alternative sources of income.

Mr Collins Odhiambo, a manager at Nilotic Club, says they have been forced to close temporarily.

“The economy of this town revolves around learning institutions, including the university, and we are feeling the pinch,” says Odhiambo.

No students to feed

He adds that the situation has been further worsened by the dusk to dawn curfew. Michael Oluoch, a boda boda rider in the town, says business has been low.

“Most of our customers were university students and staff. With the closure of the university, we are currently earning far much below what we used to get three months ago,” he says.

Yala town is no longer vibrant following the closure of Odero Akang’o campus, which was a constituent of Moi University. There are no students to sell food in the hotels and traders are counting losses because of poor business.

[Reports by Anne Atieno, Eric Abuga, Isaiah Gwengi, Kevine Omollo]

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