Answering a call of nature in Nairobi’s Central Business has always been a nightmare but it is no longer a scary business
Mr David Kuria [CEO of Ecotact] has been on a mission to ensure trips to city toilets are both pleasant and memorable.
For him, toilets are not all about filth and rot envisioned in most people’s minds.
Disturbed by lack of toilets in most towns and informal settlements, he quit a well paying job as an architect with a non-governmental organisation to engage in ‘toilet’ business.
“I quit at the time when polythene papers were being used as toilets in Kibera and other slums. I felt I could play a role in improving people’s lifestyles,” he says.
Kuria, 37, says he quit his job because it limited his services to the rich few.
“I used to serve only a few people who could afford to pay for it, yet the masses I really wanted to serve lived miserably. I could not resist climbing down to their world,” he says.
Kuria made solid waste management his entry point. While still working for the NGO, he fundraised for people who had taken up garbage recycling.
“That way, I became part of the solution to the sanitation problems of the majority. One thing led to another, culminating in ecologically friendly toilets I christened ‘Iko’, a convenient version of ecological,” he says.
Andrew Macharia Gakunju, 70, who founded City Garbage recyclers in Maringo estate, was among Kuria’s earliest beneficiaries. Kuria lobbied the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to fence off a plot Macharia had acquired from the City Council of Nairobi to keep away grabbers. UNDP also donated various recycling machines and a pick-up truck to Macharia.
In appreciation, Macharia recommended Kuria for an award from Ashoka; a global organisation that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs. He won a Change Makers award of $200,000 (Sh16 million). The East African Breweries later donated a similar amount to Kuria “to further boost his worthy cause”.
Armed with architectural skills and the experience gleaned over eight years in urban and environmental management, Kuria opted to devote his time to create toilets that are environment friendly.
He has taken solid waste management a notch higher through his plan to covert human waste deposited at ‘Iko’ toilets into energy saving biogas to light premises and into natural manure to be packaged and sold at affordable prices to boost agriculture.
He says urine will be collected in tanks and processed into urea to be used for top dressing crops instead of Calcium Ammonium Nitrate, which is beyond the reach of most farmers.
Kuria works in collaboration with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
To facilitate conversion of urine into urea, he plans to install a waterless urinal technology imported from China.
“The urinals will save us more than 10,000 litres of water at each toilet daily,” he says.
Kuria also wants to change the notion that a toilet is a messy, dirty place.
Catholic priest ‘blessed’ it
“Besides the snacks, the music and a business like atmosphere in and around the toilets, we are talking to politicians to hold public functions within the ‘iko’ toilets,” he says.
Public Health Minister Beth Mugo has held a function at one of the toilets. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka had his shoes brushed at a stand near one of the toilets at Aga Khan Walk.
Kuria says a Catholic priest also ‘blessed’ one of the toilets.
The architect says he will sign contracts with popular musicians to entertain their fans at the toilets.
“Those who love ohangla, isukuti, mugithi, nyatiti and ndombolo may soon find themselves dancing around ‘Iko’ toilets,” he says.
He also plans to bring aboard comedians such as the popular Vitimbi troupe.
Sports are high on the agenda of Kuria’s promotional exploits to change people’s thinking about toilets.
“This month, we are launching a toilet tournament in Mathare to link toilets with sports”.
And that is not all. Kuria says he is working on a reality show on toilets to be aired on local television.
“There will be prizes for those who best portray toilets as multipurpose utilities,” he says.
With a chuckle he says: “Toilets are the multiple service units of the future. You may soon be doing mobile phone money transfers in the toilet. Airtime is available and it is only a matter of time before you start buying handsets at toilet booths,” he says.
There are eleven ‘Iko’ toilets in Nairobi and Limuru and Naivasha. At the precincts of the toilets, there are outlets for snacks, fruits and water.
Other services include shoe shining. There are also installed music systems to belt out tunes that soothe nerves as one answers the call of nature.
Kuria says his innovative approach to the vital toilet service has earned him recognition from the World Toilet Organisation, based in China, with the inclusion of ‘Iko’ toilets in the hall of fame of sanitation. He is also among 2,000 businesspeople recognised by Ashoka.
He plans to expand these facilities countrywide exapnsion. “We also want to go to other countries. Uganda and South Africa have already approached me for ‘Iko’ toilets,” he says.
Born in 1971 in Elburgon, Kuria went to Michinda High School and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. He graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1992. He is pursuing a Master of Arts Degree in Environmental Science. He is married with two children.