Digital cash for refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma camps

Digital cash for refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma camps

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has introduced digital cash in the Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya which are home to 180 000 mostly South Sudanese refugees. The cash transfers – dubbed 'bamba chakula', or 'get your food' in Swahili-based Sheng slang – replace part of the monthly food ration that the refugees receive. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has eagerly supported this initiative which injects not just money but also more choice and dignity in refugees’ lives.

'Bamba chakula' is a form of 'restricted cash transfer'. The cash, which is sent through a mobile phone, can be used only in selected food shops.

As the initiative starts, only an equivalent of 10 percent of the monthly share of cereal is being given in the form of a cash transfer. This corresponds to 100 Kenyan shillings (almost €1) per person every month. A family of six, for instance, now receives 600 shillings (about €5) every month.

In the first round of distribution, 'bamba chakula' contributed over €117 000 into the Kakuma market. WFP plans to reduce the amount of in-kind food assistance and gradually increase the cash transfers as of November 2015, allowing the market to adjust to the new demand.

Choice and more value for the refugees

“It is a great idea to go to the market and choose your preferred food. The market offers a big variety,” says 21-year-old Francis Miyar, who fled what was then Southern Sudan close to ten years ago. He said he sees the new approach as revolutionary.

“Transferring cash through mobile phones allows us to offer the refugees more than we can give them with a truckload of food alone,” said Julia Vasconcelos. “In addition to more choice and control over what they eat, it actually gives them more value as well.”

Refugees often sell part of their food rations to meet other needs and unfortunately, receive very low prices for the food they sell.

“Sometimes the refugees sell a tin of maize (roughly two kilos) for as little as 20 shillings (about €0.20),” said Mohammed Guyo, one of the traders in Kakuma camp. “A kilo of sorghum goes for as little as five shillings.” The prices fetched by maize and sorghum in the shops are much higher.

This is a loss for the refugees, and also for WFP and its donors. With 'bamba chakula', the refugees are receiving the full value of their entitlement.

Working with local and refugee traders

WFP is working with more than 300 traders, including women selling fish and vegetables off blankets or from wheelbarrows along the bustling streets of the Kakuma camps.

The traders come from a variety of backgrounds, representative of the blend of nationalities in the camps and ethnicities in the surrounding areas. WFP plans to include as many traders as possible, to spread the benefits and ensure that refugees can shop around for the best value.

“It is a smart move that will benefit us as refugees and as traders,” said Riziki Nadia, a 22-year-old vegetable vendor from Burundi, and one of the participating traders. 

Mohammed Ishmail Abdallah, a refugee from Somalia, is enthusiastic. “I know that 'bamba chakula' will help raise my sales because the refugees will have more money to spend,” he said.

“'Bamba chakula' will help me keep my money safe on the mobile phone. It is safer to transact on the phone compared to handling cash,” he added.

The 'bamba chakula' programme is supported by the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (ECHO) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).


Martin Karimi, Public Information Officer, WFP Kenya 

Article originally was publishedon European Commision website

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