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Kakamega becomes a university town

Kakamega town has registered an upsurge in demand for housing and related amenities with the introduction of the region’s first fully charted public university, write ROSELYNE OBALA and GRACE WEKESA

Kakamega town, mostly known by locals as ‘Khakhamega’ or ‘Eshieywe’, is fast growing in terms of population and business by the day.

With a population of over 80,000 people, it is strategically placed and has become a university town.

Kakamega town is the place to invest  going by the stream of business prospects available with the presence of the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) and other major players.

?Housing shortage within the town continues to be a thorn in the flesh for most residents and the situation is not any better for the management of MMUST.

Currently, the university has 10,000 students in total, including all their campuses. This number is likely to increase to 12,000 in the next academic year due to commence in August.

With the latest development, the town is overwhelmed by the increase in population.

Kakamega town and its environs is experiencing a big challenge, mainly a scarcity of decent housing, both residential and commercial. ?

The university, which began in 2002 with 2,002 students, then a constituent college of Moi University but now fully fledged, has spurred the growth of the town.

?The university has had a great impact in the area bringing with it high demand for housing units.

This in turn has exacted pressure on landlords to venture deeply into the rental house and lecture hall businesses, and consequently this has raised the living standards of the people in the area.

?New buildings are also being erected within the town at a higher rate, all within the central business district.

The university will admit 1,500 First Year students, with the Privately Sponsored Students Programme (PSSP) taking the biggest share in numbers (8,000) while the Joint Admission Board (JAB) students will be 4,000.

Tremendous growth

Being the youngest public university in the country, MMUST is still undergoing tremendous challenges in terms of housing and lecture halls.

?Prof Sibilika Makhanu, Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) in charge of Finance and Administration, admitted that the institution’s biggest challenge is housing and lecture halls.

Makhanu asserted that MMUST’s major focus now is to ensure that lecture halls and laboratories are constructed within the university compound to facilitate learning.

?“Our focus as MMUST fraternity is to ensure that lecture halls and laboratories are not scattered in different places,” noted Makhanu.

He said a multi-purpose lecture hall is under construction and he is optimistic it will be completed in the next academic year so that it can be used as lecture classrooms and save the students many trips within the town going for lectures in rented buildings.

Construction ongoing

?In addition, Makhanu said a female hostel is under construction in the compound and it will accommodate 1,000 students after completion.

?The DVC, however, regretted that the institute’s major test would be in August when admitting first year students, the second bunch of the double intake. Those currently in their long vacations will also report back as second years together with the lot admitted in February.

?“The two groups will be together as second years, definitely accommodation and classrooms will pose a challenge to the institution not forgetting the first years who will been also admitted during the same period,” he noted.

?Makhanu confirmed that they held a Public Private Partnership Workshop (PPPS) some few weeks ago with the investors and most of them are willing to invest in hostels and lecture halls.

?“With the investors coming on board, housing and lecture halls would be a thing of the past in MMUST. I believe we shall make progress to improve our learning facilities,” he said.

?This assurance comes against a backdrop of a recent letter addressed to the PS Higher Education Chrispus Kiamba by the academic staff over what they termed as unsafe and unhealthy lecture halls, hired by the institution.

??In the letter to Prof Kiamba, they stated that lecture halls at Nakumatt’s Beholden Mall and Vodka/Shivas Arcade do not adhere to guidelines as spelled out in the university’s statute.

Complaints letter

The letter was copied to the Office of the President, Office of the Prime Minister, Commission for Higher Learning and the University’s Council chairman. ?They complained that the two lecture halls were congested, with poor ventilation and lighting, exposing the students to risks.

?Makhanu sought to explain that the problem arose during last semester’s examinations because the venues for conducting the exams were few.

?He noted that they had to hire places where students sat for the examinations while the first years continued with their lectures.

?“Our idea did not go well with some of the lecturers and that is the reason they opted to demand for studies to be deferred,’’ he explained.

?Makhanu reiterated that they cannot defer studies for one semester as the institution is capable of managing the situation despite the difficulties they face.

?Nick Bett, a fifth year Engineering student asked the university to make good use of the long vacation that often takes almost four months to put in place more lecture rooms.

?“I do not see the problem ending but getting worse as the enrolment would be enormous,’’ Bett noted.

Management’s take

The Director of Public Communication and Publishing at the university, Egara Kabaji also agreed that the student population has grown and overwhelmed the town.

Prof Kabaji said MMUST is a visible industry in town and with the increasing student population; the town must now adjust by putting up more houses.

?“This situation offers a good investment opportunity for locals as half of the student admitted at the main campus reside outside the campus,” he said.

?The University has three big hostels accommodating about 1,400 students and another for over 200.

?At the same time, the university has entered into public/private partnership, where the community invests in putting up hostel to the required standards and the university allows students to rent.

Silver lining

?“We have ten of such hostels already and they are situated about one to two kilometres away from the university. We inspect to ensure they met the specified requirement,” he explained.

?Kabaji said the university has the same arrangement for lecture halls, adding that so far they have three venues.

?“It is a stop-gap measure to address the shortage we currently face. We have hired these places to assist for the time being but it’s not a unique case at MMUST,” he said.

?Kabaji said the university has constructed another science block to house the laboratories, lecture halls and offices, also they are putting up a multi-purpose hall within the campus to address the scarcity.

?He dismissed calls by some lectures that the hired places posed a health hazard to the learners.

?“We are having a double-intake and the semesters must go on to clear the backlog of students still waiting to join the university,” he added.

?He explained that time is a factor and therefore as they address the problem, the university calendar cannot be disrupted.

?According to Western Kenya registered and practicing property valuer, Geoffrey Koros, housing is now a major problem in Kakamega especially because the demand is high.

?“Existing investors for sometime concentrated on residential buildings completely ignoring commercial buildings yet but are really needed,” he said.

?The move has given rise to demand, for more lecturer halls, staff housing and students’ hostels

?“Housing shortage is a crisis as locals lack commercial space for co-operate clients, except for a few buildings with town,” he said.

?He states that most locals are sitting on gold mines.

?“An individual has a plot going for about Sh15million and puts up a structure worth Sh5million,” he noted.

He said the cost of constructing a modern state of the art building goes for between Sh150 million to Sh 200 million, which many people cannot afford.

Housing Minister Soita Shitanda reiterated that the region has the best opportunity for investment and urged investors to stream in.


 

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