While most of the crime-related cases involving university students in Kenya appear to happen in private hostels outside the campuses, on-campus accommodation is relatively safer, cheaper and convenient. 


Murder, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse: What's going on at Kenyan universities?

What you need to know:

  • The total university student enrolment stands at 546,700, but only about 25 percent can be accommodated on-campus.
  • More than 15 cases of student deaths in universities and other institutions of learning have been reported by the press this year alone.

It is Friday afternoon and there is an air of excitement around Gachororo slums, on the periphery of Juja Town. Business is slowly coming out of the tough times that followed the closure of institutions of learning when Covid-19 struck.

Landlords are relieved as their rental premises are fully occupied once more. University students are prepared to usher in the weekend and take a break from studies, and some have taken a trip to the neighbourhood.

In the streets, they engage the residents selling a variety of foodstuff, while others troop to the cheap liquor joints. But there are some that already beat them to it, and are already in the early stages of inebriation. 

The symbiotic relationship between students and the residents has existed for years, but there have also been a few clashes in the past, some of them bloody. 

The settlement, which is just behind Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), is popular with students who reside on campus and those who have rented near the school. Hundreds of others have rented more decent accommodation in other parts of Juja Town as they cannot all be accommodated within the university.

The situation is not unique to JKUAT, students at all other universities face the same challenge where accommodation is offered on a first come, first serve basis. For example, the University of Nairobi has a population of 65,000 students yet the accommodation facilities can only take in 10,000 students.

Kirinyaga University has no hostels for students and only guides them on suitable premises within its neighbourhood. The University of Embu also provides accommodation to less than 1,000 students, out of its enrolment of above 5,000 students. 

According to the Economic Survey 2021, Kenya’s total university student enrolment stands at 546,700, which is a significant growth from the 27,000 university students in 1990. An equally high number is enrolled in middle-level colleges. However, only about 25 percent of these students can be accommodated on-campus.

At Kenyatta University, for example, thousands of students reside at Kiwanja, popularly known as KM, and Kahawa Wendani, while some commute from Githurai. Only first year students under government sponsorship are guaranteed accommodation. According to a source at the university’s accommodation department, only 30 percent of the students reside on campus.

Cases of student deaths

“The other 70 percent reside either at their homes or with relatives or in the off-campus hostels,” the source said.

He commented that although there have been no major security issues involving students, the poor state of the economy has forced parents to place their children “in less secure areas for accommodation which are risky, exposing them to crime”.

The average cost of bed space at the university is Sh7,000 per academic year with variations dependent on room occupancy. 

“I chose to be a non-resident student after one semester because of the congestion in the hostels. I have my own space here and play by my own rules,” a student at Kenyatta University who did not wish to be identified said. She resides at Kahawa Wendani. 

Whereas students complain about congestion in university hostels, private accommodation faces other challenges such as poor sanitation and lack of easy access to on-campus services like Wi-Fi and the library. 

There is growing concern that accommodation facilities for students in universities and other institutions of tertiary education have turned into dens of drug abuse, illicit sex and crime, often resulting in death, going by recent statistics. As a result, there is worry by families and authorities over the safety of students as cases of crime on and off-campus continue to rise. 

Private hostels located within Ngara and Parklands area of Nairobi that Higher Education visited are poorly maintained, and many students who reside there were clearly drunk or high on drugs. 

“These guys spend all their time here. They just chew muguka and drink. I don’t know when they go to school,” Martin Ndung’u, who operates a wines and spirits outlet, said. 

More than 15 cases of student deaths in universities and other institutions of learning have been reported by the press this year alone, but the number could be higher. Worryingly, it appears to take a gender angle as female students appear to suffer most from the violence.

Ivy Wangechi

Moi University students follow proceedings during the burial of Ivy Wangechi in Nyeri on April 18, 2019.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

According to the director of corporate affairs at UoN, John Orindi, the cases of drug abuse and crime are a societal problem that is affecting all youths in the country, not just students. 

“The society has changed and focus on youth mental health wellness is key,” he says. He added the university has provided support systems to the student community through deployment of counsellors at the university health unit and also peer counsellors. 

The university has also abolished the third semester and reverted to a two-semester academic year to ease pressure on students and lecturers.

“Many of the cases of depression arise from academic pressure and failure of progression. The students will now have a long break before they begin another academic year,” Mr Orindi said. 

On Mashujaa Day, a fifth year veterinary medicine student at the Upper Kabete campus was reported to have died by suicide inside her room.

Earlier, on October 1 2021, a second year Bachelor of Nursing student at Kenyatta University was found dead at Qwetu Student Residences, a private high-end hostel in the city in another suspected case of suicide. 

While most of the crime-related cases appear to happen in private hostels outside the campuses, on-campus accommodation is relatively safer, cheaper and convenient. 

“My daughter had been convinced by her friends to seek accommodation outside the campus but I refused. Many of them think it’s cool residing outside the campus but it’s fraught with danger,” Robert Njiru, whose daughter is at Murang’a University of Technology, said. 

Mr Njiru observed that many students end up as victims of crime after getting entangled in toxic relationships. He cited the case of a Mt Kenya University student who was rescued by the police in the nick of time as a prisons officer lay in wait for her in her rented house in Thika, intending to kill her. 

In the case, which happened in August, Constable Edwin Omuse left Kangeta GK Prison in Imenti, Meru County armed with a G3 rifle which he hid in a gunny bag and travelled to Thika. 

Raped and murdered

He had divulged to one of his friends that his girlfriend had defrauded him Sh900,000 and that he would kill her. The friend informed police officers who laid a trap and arrested the warder at the student’s house. 

In another recent case, on September 29 2021, Getrude Chepkoech, a first year student, was stabbed to death by a man said to have been her roommate’s boyfriend inside a private hostel just a few weeks after joining Laikipia University. The man, Ezra Kipkorir Koech, a fourth year engineering student at Dedan Kimathi University, then attempted suicide, but was beaten up by a mob, later succumbing to injuries while being treated in hospital.

Yet in June, a third year student at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology was raped and murdered in Kefinco Estate, Kakamega County. The murder sparked protests from fellow students over growing insecurity affecting students. 

Two other students had been attacked and killed by thugs in the same estate while two others were injured in violent attacks the previous month.

Still in June, a second year student at Mount Kenya University was stabbed to death by her alleged lover in her room while another student at the same university is believed to have killed her colleague and then committed suicide in March. 

In May, the mutilated body of a student of Kibabii Diploma Teachers Training College in Bungoma County was found, causing his colleagues to go on the rampage. Martin Ambani, a third year student, was found dead next to a railway line at Miyanga area, about a kilometre away from the college.

In December last year, the body of Eunice Muthoni Njeri, who was a student at Egerton University, was found dumped in the shallow waters of River Subuku in Njoro, Nakuru County. Her fellow students, Diana Njeri Muthiomi and Tamar Wambora Njeru were arrested in February following investigations by the forensics department of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. DCI boss George Kinoti said investigations showed Njeri may have been murdered by her friends after one of them suspected her of having an affair with her husband.