Small businesses struggle to cope after losing hundreds of regular customers

Moi University West Campus in Eldoret. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]
The transfer of more than 200 students from Moi University West Campus to the main campus in Kesses has hurt businesses around Rodi and Huruma estate in Uasin Gishu.

Those affected were students from the School of Education and Business, Department of Mathematics and Business, as well as those studying human resource.

Traders who used to report booming business are now counting heavy losses because the students used to form the majority of their clientele.

Landlords, hoteliers and transporters who relied on the huge campus population to boost their income are now a disillusioned lot.

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“Our business was doing very well with students trooping in every lunch hour. We risk closure without them,” said Sharon Kitur, who runs an eatery near the campus.

Some landlords are also staring at heavy losses after they spent millions of shillings to construct hostels, which are currently unoccupied.

Many universities have opted to leave the business of providing accommodation to private individuals in the surrounding communities. This allows the institutions to concentrate on their core function of teaching and research.

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“After the university referred the students back to the main campus, we have experienced losses in the last two months,” said Kimani wa Mbugua, a landlord.

Mr Kimani told The Standard they initially thought it was just a few students who were leaving the rental houses and hostels, only to be shocked when they learnt about the actual numbers vacating the premises.

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Campus student Miriam Cherotich said many hostels had no occupants, which had forced their owners to redesign them at great cost for other business purposes.

Retailers who had reported brisk business due to the large student numbers have also been struggling to remain afloat.

Benson Mureithi was forced to close his mini-supermarket and open a small kiosk when the number of customers dwindled sharply.

“It hurts to go back to where you started your business. It was a major blow after students moved back to the main campus and left a few students, the majority who do not reside around the place. I lost almost 50 per cent of my profit,” Mr Mureithi said.

Mary Wekesa, a hairdresser, said she is struggling to run her business after losing half of her clients. This is despite having a group of loyal students who travel back to the estates to have their hair done.

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“Running a salon that fails to pick up may force you to start offering door-to-door services. Or you may be forced to return to town and work in a salon where you are paid on commission. This won’t help to pay the bills or provide basic needs for your family,” Ms Wekesa said.

There are widespread fears among investors in other towns that the same fate may befall them after the Education ministry radical measures that will see mergers in the 32 public universities merge and shutting down of satellite campuses across the country.

Nakuru town, which has many hostels that accommodate the huge number of students in satellite campuses, could be one of those hit hard by the directive.

Kenya Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nakuru Chapter chairman Stephen Thuo said the idea of merging universities and closing satellite campus is not economically viable.

Mr Thuo warned that closing the campuses in town would turn it into a ‘ghost town’ at a time when the municipality is eyeing city status.

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The chairman said many small towns like Mbaruk in Nakuru and others in Nyahururu and Laikipia had only grown because of their close proximity to colleges and universities.

[Audrey Ng’eno, Caroline Chebet and Mercy Kahenda]

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