Nairobi has 150 public toilets for 5 million people

  • Along Moi Avenue and downtown Nairobi, matatu operators pee between stationary vehicles, leaving permanent streaks of urine patterns on the road and parking bays
  • Similarly, most lanes in downtown Nairobi have been turned into loos

Answering a call of nature in Nairobi can be frustrating during the day.

By nightfall, short and long calls of nature become even trickier to answer, considering that the few public toilets available in the city close shop in the evenings, yet there are hundreds of Nairobians still out and about at night, including touts, matatu drivers, long distance travellers, guards, hawkers, revellers and street families.

This has forced some people to seek relief in flower beds.

The flower beds along the busy Aga Khan Walk and lanes connecting to Kimathi Street and Moi Avenue are constantly being ‘watered’ with urine. Similarly, Muindi Mbingu Street and Tom Mboya is one long urinal for pressed Nairobians at night.

This explains the upturned noses you are bound to bump into on the streets due to the pungent stench. Contracted cleaners we spoke to admitted that they’re regularly confronted with the mess of the previous night. 

Along Moi Avenue and downtown Nairobi, matatu operators pee between stationary vehicles, leaving permanent streaks of urine patterns on the road and parking bays.

Similarly, most lanes in downtown Nairobi have been turned into loos with the mess rarely cleaned or collected.

The existing county public toilets close before 9pm, leaving those who have to go to rush to restricted toilets in pubs and hotels, poorly-lit street corners or flower gardens.

“Popping into a bar or restaurant at night and requesting to use the restroom may not always bear the desired results. It’s even worse if you are with a child, because you wouldn’t be allowed through the door of a pub. The alternative is the streets,” says a city bar manager.

“Every day, thousands of people visit the city centre and a big proportion of would need to relieve themselves. At night, but because of insecurity, we can’t operate past 9pm or very early in the morning,” says David Kuria, the CEO of Iko Toilets. He adds that the city centre needs about 50 public toilets and improved security to meet the current demand.

In Hurlingham, it is the bushy fences, drainage trenches, open manholes and undeveloped plots that come handy for those who have to take leak - even in daylight. It is the same case in Westlands, where the single public toilet serves the bus termini in the area.

Bushy fences in Hurlingham have been turned into toilets

“I often see men lining up and women squatting in the bushes and by the fences or trenches, but I can’t stop them. I understand their situation, but I can’t let them into my employer’s toilets,” says Eric Nyatuka, a security guard.

In Karen, Upperhill, Hurlingham, Buruburu and other shopping centres of Eastlands, there are no public toilets, turning every disused building, undeveloped plots, ditches and bushes into toilets for roadside food vendors, boda boda operators, touts and other small traders.

Traders in Karen who cannot access toilets in the buildings and hotels around, dash to nearby bushes, but for some like boda boda operators like Peter Njoroge, they have to ride for a distance of up to two kilometres to relieve themselves behind buildings.

“That is a distance we charge Sh100 for a round trip. So, that’s how much it costs me to answer a short call of nature. How many people would sacrifice that to relieve themselves? You either hold it, sneak into buildings around or do it in the bush,” says Njoroge.

Nicholas Ochieng, a trader in Buruburu, says it has become a norm for people to relieve themselves in the open without being bothered.

Though it is not lost on them that whatever they are doing pose a health hazard, the pressure will always overcome decorum and thoughts of hygiene. In Githurai 45, matatu drivers and conductors pee openly at the matatu termini and continue with their business unperturbed.

But this is costly for other businesspeople who have to bear the cost of cleaning up the areas near their premises that have been turned into toilets.


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