'How we survive on Sh7,000 monthly salaries in Nairobi'

Maurice Ocholla (L) and Chiku Kerenge, who are residents of Nairobi shared how they survive on Sh7,000 monthly. [Sharon Wanga, Standard]

As the cost of living continues to skyrocket, and many households hard hit by limited finances, The Standard seeks to find out how low-income earners are surviving the tough times.

Fifty-year-old Maurice Ocholla is a mechanic at Bellevue in South B, Nairobi. On Wednesday, February 15 this writer meets him cycling his bicycle to work in the morning.

He is dressed in a grey shirt, navy blue pair of trousers and black pair of shoes. His face bears a few wrinkles, suggesting he has seen better days. After stopping him, and exchanging greetings, Ocholla, a native of Homa Bay County, says he has been cycling to South B from Kibra daily for many years now.

"This bicycle has helped me weather the storm of financial hardship," he says.

"On days that I'm unable to raise bus fare, I hop onto it and cycle to work. It's quite convenient as it helps me save a few coins and I get to work on time."

If he goes the bus fare route, he uses Sh150 daily on transportation.

"In a day, I usually make an average of between Sh200 and Sh300. So, spending Sh150 daily on bus fare alone is an extremely expensive affair," he said.

Ocholla is among the many city residents who earn an average of Sh7,000 monthly, which is way lower than the minimum recommended wage by the government - Sh15,120.

"I chose to live in Kibra because of the availability of cheap houses. I have stayed there for 23 years now," he said.

Ocholla, a father of six, pays Sh3,000 monthly for a double-room house, and uses the remaining Sh4,000 or thereabouts, to cater for the other expenses, including food, school fees and medication.

"My house is not big, but it's just enough to accommodate me, my wife and six children," he says.

Sh7,000 appears like an almost impossible figure to satisfactorily cater for eight people monthly, but Ocholla says "proper planning and living within my means have made it possible".

Shoe shiner

Across the city, this writer meets Ronald Otieno, a resident of Baba Dogo area in Ruaraka Constituency. He is at a shoe-shining stall at Koinange Street in Nairobi's central business district, where he's been employed for the last eight years.

Just like Ocholla, he too takes home about Sh7,000 monthly, with his daily average pay being between Sh250 and Sh300.

"My salary is little. I have to top up the budget deficit using mobile loans," says the father-of-two.

"To further cut down on daily costs, I decided that I'd be taking only two meals a day. It has been possible so far."

School fees and medical expenses gobble the largest chunk of his earnings.

"Sometime back, I had an eye infection that cost me a lot of money to treat. It was then, that I learnt of the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and its benefits. Around that time, I decided to forgo lunch and save toward NHIF premium charges," he said.

Otieno, 37, says were it not for mobile loans, it would have been more difficult for him to make ends meet.

"I'm perennially in a debt cycle, but I'm glad that I manage to foot my bills nonetheless."

Transport fees in Nairobi are exorbitant, and usually take up significant amount of money from commuters.

To manage this expense, Otieno says he walks almost daily to and from Nairobi CBD.

In the other side of town - Kilimani -, this writer meets Chiku Kerenge, a cleaner at Yaya Centre.

A few years ago, she was able to afford boda boda charges to and from work. Today, she's straining to raise that fee.

"Boda boda fares have increased two-fold. I have, therefore, reduced the frequency of using them to get to work," said the resident of Kawangware, who is a single parent of one child.

On days that she's not travelling on boda bodas, she's in matatus, saying the PSVs are "cheaper compared to the boda bodas".

"I earn a monthly salary of Sh6,000," she disclosed.

"That money is too little to cater for the needs of my son and myself. To raise more funds, I usually do other menial jobs such as house-cleaning at a fee during my off days."

According to Kerenge, she has a daily savings target of Sh20.

"After saving for some time, I use the money to cater for my son's clothing, food and leisure needs," she says.

The 39-year-old woman has lived in Nairobi for the past 15 years.

"I decided to only prioritise basic needs in my budget," she said when asked on her secret to surviving the biting inflation and soaring food prices.

The narrations by Ocholla, Otieno and Kerenge paint the picture of the struggles of many city dwellers who have to contend with low income.

Nairobi is ranked among the continent's most expensive cities, and a low income poses a significant challenge to residents.

A January 2022 World Bank report estimated that 53 per cent of Kenyans are living in abject poverty. That translates to 28.5 million people.

President William Ruto, during campaigns in the run-up to the August 9, 2022 presidential election, pledged to put in place measures and policies that would lower the cost of living.

His campaign narrative rode him to victory against his arch-rival Raila Odinga, who had pledged a Sh6,000 monthly social stipend for needy families.

Today, President Ruto is being accused of reneging on promises that he made, as the country continues to bear the brunt of inflation and a notoriously high cost of commodities amid a weakening value of the Kenyan shilling.

Will he stand up and be counted?

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