Cash transfers best way to give donations, not crowded baraza

What you need to know:

  • One might ask: How do you identify vulnerable households in Kibra and how do you conduct even rudimentary means testing to determine the truly needy and vulnerable?

  • Simple: Work with reputable institutions with demonstrable capacity and experience in working with vulnerable groups in the area.

A piece of advice for Mr Raila Odinga. Please, give the people of Kibra cash instead of food.

The scenes of pushing and shoving for food that we witnessed there the other day were not only clumsy breaches of social-distancing rules but exposed those hungry crowds to the highly contagious virus.

I have no doubt that Mr Odinga genuinely wanted to help the people from the economic pain visited upon them by the consequences of social-distancing rules. But I believe that with advances we have made with mobile money transfer platforms — and considering the progress and success we have achieved insofar as implementing cash transfer programmes are concerned ­— the best way of channelling assistance to vulnerable communities is cash transfers.

In Kenya, we are lucky to have one of the world’s most expansive mobile banking platform in the name of M-Pesa. Today, most of the conditional cash transfer programmes, including the government’s Inua Jamii Programme and the Hunger and Safety Net Programme, channel cash to beneficiaries through M-Pesa.

Within Nairobi, an NGO by the name FSDAfrica has been running a conditional cash transfer programme in the Mathare slums since 2018. Under it, 1,000 beneficiaries, mainly young people running small informal sector businesses, have been receiving regular cash transfers of Sh5,000 per month. I gather that FSDAfrica is at advanced stages of rolling out a similar programme in Kibra.

Another NGO, GiveDirectly, has been running successful cash transfer programmes in Homa Bay, Bomet and Siaya counties.

If Mr Odinga wanted to avoid the hullabaloo and the jostling we witnessed in Kibra, he should have just sent cash to the people.

One might ask: How do you identify vulnerable households in Kibra and how do you conduct even rudimentary means testing to determine the truly needy and vulnerable? Simple: Work with reputable institutions with demonstrable capacity and experience in working with vulnerable groups in the area. Many of such institutions have not only have access but own very reliable databases of vulnerable households.

My advice to Mr Odinga or any philanthropist willing help the people of Kibra or any other slum during this period of the pandemic is the following: Seek partnerships with entities that are already on the ground running cash transfer programmes targeting at the poor and the vulnerable.

There was nothing to stop Mr Odinga from approaching the Communications Authority of Kenya or even Safaricom to provide him with cellphone geographical data of people who live in Kibra.

Cash transfers through M-Pesa are a very transparent way of passing on donations given to you by supporters to vulnerable households. The beauty of it is that the beneficiaries themselves decide what they want to spend the money on. Why would you want to give a poor household a packet of maize flour when what they need more urgently is medicine? The head of the household decides whether to spend the cash on medicine, kerosene, charcoal or cooking fat.

New technology does wonders when it comes to rolling out news services in slums. Safaricom is partnering with a British company, Circle Gas, in a project whereby the poor in Mukuru kwa Njenga slums in Nairobi will access cooking gas without having to pay for the cylinder.

This type of project only become feasible because of the existence of reliable data about households living in that slum. Somebody provided accurate data on concentrations of users of charcoal and kerosene in the slum.

What lesson are we learning from the Covid-19 crisis about the informal sector and the tools the government can use to avert economic pain in this sector whenever a pandemic breaks out?

With the informal sector growing at a much higher pace than the formal one, I see conditional cash transfer programmes acquiring a higher profile in government policymaking. In 2017, the British government’s Independent Commission on Aid Impact concluded that cash transfers make vulnerable people more resilient to shocks.

To cushion the poor better during pandemics, we will need to make sure that every citizen is connected to a formal utility, be it power, fibre cable or water.

Secondly, the pandemic has exposed the digital divide between the poor and rich in this country. Right now, a child living in the Kibra slums is unable to continue with studies yet his counterparts in the affluent neighbourhoods in a house with broadband connectivity does. If the pandemic lasts another six months, many children will be cut off from learning.

In retrospect, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s idea of giving a laptop to every pupils was not without merit.

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