Flatmates (or not): Living alone in Kenya

samfloy~3 November 2018 /East Africa/East Africa Culture

My Kenyan friends in Nairobi have a similar outlook on a lot of things that my friends elsewhere do, though occasionally there’ll be an instance where there’s just a fundamental difference.

One emerged over lunch on Thursday with my colleague.

Francis and I got onto who we’re living with and he said: “I mean… I just live by myself?!”.

This was interesting because my answer was: “I mean… I live with flatmates?!”.

Living solo in Kenya

We explored the topic.

He said that a big part of the culture in Kenya is that once you “come of age” and leave your parents’ home you’re expected to make a life for yourself.

Part of this is having a place from which you can rear a family. The expectation being that, yes, career and everything is important, but there is somewhat of an expectation that you’ll begin delivering grandkids before too long.

“You can’t raise a family in a flatshare?!” Francis said, and as such the idea of even wooing a lady back to your shared apartment was a non-starter. 

My female Kenyan friends corroborate: “what kind of a message does that send if I bring a guy back and there are other people there?!”

F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

For me, it would be (almost) unthinkable to live by myself out straight out of university.

This obviously makes you question where the reference points to your world view are coming from. 

Perhaps it’s a stretch, but growing up I (and many of my demographic) will have seen lots of positive reinforcement of 20-somethings living together in a city and have a right old good time.

This, I guess, will have subtly normalised me to the idea that “that’s just the way things are done” once you venture off into the big, wide world: you find your friends, and live together.

Wider community

This might be a stretch, but it may also be linked to the way in which social networks are constructed. 

In Kenya, a big part of people’s community is still the church. Almost all of my 20-something friends attend regularly and get a dose of social interaction in that way.

In the UK and elsewhere I know very few who could call upon the church as a source of friends. As such, I would speculate that social bonds are stronger through the friendship groups of who you live with.

This may factor into the wider idea of non-family, non-church connections being your support structure. And as such normalise the idea that you’d want to live with them.

Cultural > Economical

It’s obviously more nuanced, and there are examples which will contradict, but the general theme I see is certainly that of:

Local Kenyans: live by themselves
Expats: live in groups

Importantly this is not just in Kenya, but when the expats were back at home.

From a financial standpoint, it may make sense. Rent in London/ San Francisco is prohibitively high for a 20-something to be living on their own.

In Nairobi, it is possible to get a one-bed apartment for $300/ month (even $120/ month if you’re happy with a 1.5 hour commute).

As such the pressure to share costs aren’t as strong.

Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that you could save money by living in a flatshare. Financially I could find myself a one bed apartment, however, choose instead to live with 3 other people.

On a personal level, the social network element rings truest.

Without daily interaction with my flatmates: cooking breakfast together, asking “how’s your day looking?”, I’d have a relatively small number of non-work interactions with other people, especially at the weekend.

Maybe that’s because I’ve been conditioned into thinking “this is what you’re supposed to do”, but that notion doesn’t seem to be in play in Kenya as much. 

The actual answer?

This is all conjecture that I’m tapping up on a Saturday morning.

If anyone does actually know of any studies around the topic then I would be very interested to give it a read!

I would also welcome any thoughts/ experience that you have on the topic.


In other news…

I got the chance to go through some articles I had stored up. These are some of the more interesting ones if you fancy some reading this weekend:


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