The presence of beggars in Nairobi is very obvious; men, women, and children walking along cars or sitting on the side of the road begging. Often it is people with visible disabilities such as missing limbs or children who are doing the begging. UNICEF estimated in 2012 that there were 250,000 – 300,000 homeless children in Kenya, an estimate which is expected to have increased in the last seven years. The Consortium on Street Children (CSC) estimates that there are 60,000 street children in Nairobi alone. It has been reported that children are being ‘rented’ to adults without children as people are more likely to give money to parents or children who are begging than a single adult. The begging culture and industrialization of it is complicated and there are many different people with different experiences involved.
Begging is seen as something done as a last resort, but there is also a perception that people are begging to fund lavish lifestyles of alcohol and prostitution. In an article on Standard Media – a Kenyan media website, the author chronicles the habits of beggars in Nairobi living in the slums of Korogocho. There are tales of “millionaires” – beggars making up to 2,000KES (about $25CAD) a day and spending that money on alcohol and prostitutes. In a country where nearly half of the population has an income of less than 10,000KES a month, 2,000KES a day is well above the average.
There have been news articles where beggars were interviewed and said they could make more begging then in the formal work force such as a house cleaner. With limited social security Kenyans do not receive financial support despite not being able to work in the formal sector due to a disability, this creates begging as one of the only options for that person to support themselves. Begging is seen as a job by many, why find another job where you will make less money and may be unable to bring your young children.
It was hard for me to have an opinion as I was an outsider looking in; however, begging wasn’t a topic that locals steered away from in conversation. On my morning ride to work in an Uber I passed the same people begging in the same spots everyday. More than once my driver would comment on the beggars as we waited to drive past them or when they were at the window, having seen me in the back, became more insistent. The comment I heard the most was that it was sad that there were people who had to beg, but there were also times when people expressed their anger about the situation to me. I had a driver say they were upset the state didn’t do more and another driver say that they were angry these people didn’t get real jobs.
In a conversation with my Kenyan co-worker I was reminded that there are many different causes of the begging industry. My co-worker talked to me about the lack of a social infrastructure and support for people with disabilities as well as the instability of the informal job sector. He told me about how often the people we see begging are brought to their spots in the morning, given breakfast and supported with the intention of taking a cut of the profits, sometimes a very large cut.
I asked him how I should respond to beggars who ask me for money or food, he said that was up to me; if I felt like I wanted to give money or food I could. He said his main struggle about giving to beggars was that if he supported them financially, he took the burden off the state. As long as regular Kenyan citizens or residents like me support these people the state doesn’t have to. Begging is a very visible poverty; overall begging is a symptom of deeper issues but becomes very obvious and is hard to ignore. The first steps toward reducing begging have been taken, it’s important for the Kenyan government to keep moving forward on this issue.
UN Office of Statistics. (2013) Kenya Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/kenya_statistics.html
Consortium on Street Children. (1991) Research on Street Children in Kenya. Retrieved from
Consortium on Street Children. (2019) Universal Periodic Review of Kenya. Retrieved from
The World Bank Group. (2019) Kenya. Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/country/kenya?view=chart