The unique alternatives in cheap accommodation

Container shopping stalls in Rongai.

Container shopping stalls in Rongai.

Along Thika Road, adjacent to the East African Breweries Limited factory is a row of containers that have turned the once deserted driveway into booming business premises.

These shipping containers have been restructured to include large doors and incorporated safety features that make them suitable to be used as business premises.

All kinds of businesses have been set up including clothing stores, entertainment joints and a restaurant that sells fruits to the locals.

Across town in Rongai, on Magadi Road, stands a tidy one storey building. Situated in a busy business centre the activities around and in the building almost conceal the structure made of shipping containers.

Mr Peter Mbugua, the owner, says he bought his first container 25 years ago at Sh20,000 and converted it into a kiosk at Machakos Bus Station, Nairobi. Before long there was demand for containers and he started buying and selling them for profit.

“Most people wanted to use them as stores and warehouses to keep raw materials during construction. But with time the use moved to office space and housing for their workers,” said Mr Mbugua, popularly known as Njoroge in Rongai where BD Life interviewed him.

He has stuck up 18 containers, each 40 feet, into the storey building opposite Masai Mall. Each container is partitioned into fives stall of 64 square feet.

Kuguru Foods, a family business founded by Peter Kuguru, was one of the first enterprises to use shipping containers. The business set up the containers in strategic areas stocked with Softa sodas and a sitting area. Shortly competitor Coca-Cola followed suit.

The trend is also growing among urban dwellers as well as rural folks who are buying used containers and modifying them to suit different uses.


Stamford Steel Company, which buys, sells and modifies shipping containers in Nairobi, says demand has grown over the years as people became aware of the convenience of using them as business and living structures.

Recycling containers is seen as an affordable alternative compared to constructing a building. Several containers can be put together to be used as a main structure and configured with extra doors, windows, locks and a paint job to make it habitable.

Mr Mbugua says that most people who want to make them more comfortable inside use plaster board on walls and do interior designing.

“We modify the containers to match our client’s needs; which mostly include setting up the foundation, wiring, and partitioning.”

Several people have bought containers from him to use for rural housing. This has compelled him to seek the help of an architect who designs the plan, which he then presents to clients.

Mr Mbugua has been contracted by a land owner near Nazarene University to build self-contained hostels adjacent to the university.

“It will only take a week or two to set up the structures and be ready for occupancy once the plans are approved by the county council,” he says.

Containers are easy to move, hard to break into and waterproof making them convenient for most people.


The growing demand for containers has also pushed prices up with used container dealers asking for up to Sh500,000 for a 40 foot container and Sh350,000 for a 20 foot one.

The use of shipping containers has also been used in developed countries as housing units for studio apartments for both students and the homeless.

Living in a converted shipping container is now a big success in Europe as they are seen to be spacious, quiet and well insulated.

They also came with amenities such as own bathroom, kitchen, balcony, separate sleeping and study room, large windows that provide enough light and ventilation.

In the UK a project that is meant to relocate the homeless in the city of Brighton saw them construct 37 self-contained units to house the growing number of homeless people.

Keetwonen, in the Netherlands, is said to be the biggest container city in the world.




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