The Kenya Forum | Kenya's Covid-19 Economic Disruptions Pushing Middle-ClassTo Consider Relocating from Nairobi - The Kenya Forum

April 14, 2021


As The Economist captured, quite factually, “For many years Kenyans would oscillate, along with economic cycles, between living in expensive cities, where there are jobs and moving back to their ancestral villages, where the costs are lower “.

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Kenya’s Covid-19 Economic Disruptions Pushing Middle-ClassTo Consider Relocating from Nairobi

Kenya’s Covid-19 Economic Disruptions Pushing Middle-ClassTo Consider Relocating from Nairobi

Rush hour traffic in Nairobi

The Covid-19 pandemic has had quite some impacts on our livelihoods and one of the most notable ones is on the cost of living.

For a long time, Nairobi had been perceived as the city of opportunities and a focal point of all essential services and facilities such as banking, hospitals, learning institutions and even leisure facilities. Well, convenience comes with a cost implication and as such, life in Nairobi can also be quite expensive compared to other cities in the country.

Nairobi has for years been ranked as one of the most expensive cities to live in Africa.

The Cost of Living In Nairobi

Nairobi is the most expensive city to reside in East Africa and the 16th in Africa and 95 globally, according to a Mercer 2020 Cost of Living survey.

The annual Mercer survey ranks cities’ cost of living based on the prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and rent. The survey is mainly used by multinational organizations to set remuneration packages for their foreign-based employees.

Nairobi is ranked 95 in the list of the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates working for governments, multinational organizations and companies.

Other major cities in Kenya include; Mombasa (Kenya’s oldest and second-largest city), Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city, Nakuru, (Kenya’s fourth-largest city) and Eldoret (Kenya’s fifth-largest city and largest in the North Region).

Transport and Rent

The high cost of housing and transport in Nairobi is particularly one that continues to give many Nairobians a headache but the global pandemic occasioned by coronavirus could have just been a blessing in disguise for Nairobians, who have been forced to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure their lifestyles in order not just to thrive but to survive in the growing tough economic times.

One of the things brought about the containment measures announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2020,to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, which included a countrywide closure of schools, a dusk to dawn curfew and restriction of movements in major counties such as Nairobi and Mombasa, is a disruption on people’s livelihoods. A good number of hardworking Kenyans were laid off while those still lucky to have their jobs were put on salary cuts with some as much as 50 percent.

Folks working in the country’s entertainment sectors, who include artists, musicians, event organizers, MCs, DJs, and photographers were some of the people hit the most as events got canceled due to a ban on public gatherings.

On a normal day, food and shelter are always at the peak of day-to-day basic needs, and the expenses on rent, utility bills and food often eat the giant chunk of monthly budgets in most middle-class households in Kenya. When a person does not have an income, these and school fees for those who have children are the first areas that get affected.

The high cost of living in Nairobi amidst a global pandemic has forced Nairobi’s middle class to reconsider the housing factor and for the first time a good number of young Kenyans, who have resided in the city for years, have opened their minds to the possibilities that they can actually thrive just as much and perhaps even better in other counties outside the capital.

For the first time, Nairobi’s middle class is realizing that devolution has actually changed things in “mashinani” and the countryside has developed and the cities in neighbouring counties are no longer the “ushago” they thought off. They have realized there are good schools, banking facilities and good affordable houses in these cities, and even business opportunities and these have seen a slow exodus already from Nairobi.

Village Homes

Kenya scores high in economic management

People have also realized that city life is fluid and that the village home guarantees some level of stability and security when push comes to shove, and so folks have resorted to investing in building not just the usual small, temporary structures to sleep in when they travel to the village for the occasional funerals or Christmas festivities, but major homes that they could actually live in and work from on a routine basis.

DJ Crème Relocates to Kericho

One of such people is top DJ Creme who relocated his family from Nairobi to his hometown of Kericho due to the effects of Covid-19 on his career and the entertainment industry.

“As it is with life in Nairobi, you will find that you are making money just to pay bills. If you compare life in Nairobi and Kericho you will find that life here in the countryside is cheaper and a person can save more and lead a better-quality life,” DJ Crème said in an interview with The Standard.

Green Calabash – YouTuber Relocates to Kilifi

Renown Youtube Content Creator, popularly known for her youtube channel the Green Calabash, Shiko and her family also relocated from Nairobi to Kilifi once the first lockdown in Kenya in 2020 was lifted.

Shiko in a vlog titled; We Moved Out Of Nairobi, where the family announced the relocation, said that they had been depressed to be stuck in an apartment with young kids, much worse a toddler during the lockdown and they needed a space where they could get some air and enjoy the outdoors.

Housing in the coastal region is way cheaper than Nairobi.

Remote Work

The option of working remotely that has seen employees have the option of working from home during the pandemic is one of the things that is also making it possible for Kenya’s working population to consider moving away from Nairobi since they do not have to commute to work every day.

Mary Kaitani* who has been born in Nairobi, and has lived here all her life is also one of the young Kenyans reconsidering her life in the big city and especially now that her organization has allowed their staff to work remotely.

“I have just released how much money and time I was consuming commuting to work, because like every other hustler in Nairobi, I work on one end of the city and live on the other end. Now that my employer has adopted a hybrid working formula where staff can work remotely, with regular check-ins at the office, I realize that I do not need to live in Nairobi really. Rent has been quite expensive and I’m actually house hunting in Machakos County, which is just two hours drive from the city anyway,” She said.

Keyboard Surfers

The Economist in an article titled “Keyboard Surfers” in its March edition also acknowledged that remote working has given a lifeline to Kenya’s Beach Resorts” amid the pandemic, as a good number of locals are enjoying the flexibility of working remotely and some are choosing the beachside.

“…..Urban Kenyans who were told to work from home, but instead chose to work from a beach house,” the article read in part.

As The Economist captured, quite factually, “For many years Kenyans would oscillate, along with economic cycles, between living in expensive cities, where there are jobs and moving back to their ancestral villages, where the costs are lower “.


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