Jane Mbula, 50, a community worker in Mukuru Kayaba in eastern Nairobi, has been following the news around Covid closely. She learned the news in March 2020 when Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the country’s first case of Covid-19. Later that month, the president announced a dusk curfew, prohibiting people from leaving or entering Nairobi County and three other counties, and urged people to work from home. Jane was both worried about the new disease and what the new restrictions would mean for many in her community who would not be able to work from home.
As a busy community volunteer, representing nearly five thousand households to the local government, it was her job to worry.
Mukuru Kayaba is an informal neighborhood. Small houses built in mabati, corrugated sheets, are tightly packed. From above, television antennas and electric wires twist and knit across brown, gray and blue roofs. Thin water drainage canals run along the narrow and frequented paths of the neighborhood. Mukuru Kayaba has been Jane’s home for 30 years, during which time she had children, grandchildren and built a reputation as a respected leader. Jane’s deep, clear voice and warm laughter are a heartwarming and familiar feature of the neighborhood. His phone rings, rings and rings all day and sometimes all night.
When Kenya announced its cash transfer program on May 23, 2020, intended to alleviate the financial blow that hit poorer communities during the pandemic, Jane was relieved that people would get the help they wanted. needed. But the cash transfer program never reached many of those who needed it most.
As the owner of a store where she sells vegetables, dried foods and other groceries, Jane saw the need firsthand. Before the pandemic, people stopped to learn about neighborhood issues and to clarify government announcements or other initiatives. The path in front of his store was once busy from dawn until late at night, as people rushed to and from work. But when the Covid-19 restrictions were announced, she opened her store later and closed earlier. There were fewer people who had money to spend, even on food.
When the government launched the cash transfer program registration in April 2020, community leaders like Jane registered the names and contact details of the most vulnerable people in their communities, mainly targeting households headed by orphans, sick people. and bedridden, people with disabilities, and those who were not already benefiting from other government programs prior to Covid-19. Those registered were to receive money each week from the government for 35 weeks in 21 counties in Kenya, including Nairobi County.
But Human Rights Watch found the program to be riddled with irregularities. Some registrants did not receive the money. Even among those who received it, there were glaring disparities, with the majority receiving the weekly transfer of 1000 Ksh ($ 10) once, others two or four times, against the 35 times promised by the government . Many vulnerable families, including those who had been enrolled, were completely excluded from the program with no opportunity to appeal or challenge the decision to exclude them. The Covid-19 cash transfer program also failed to meet basic human rights criteria of ensuring an adequate standard of living for everyone, including the right to food and shelter. as many people suffered from hunger while others were evicted for non-payment of rent despite the government implementing the cash transfer program for eight months.
Jane’s community was no exception.
Many residents of Mukuru Kayaba are day laborers who lost their income when the government ordered everyone to stay in their homes. Others make their living from selling goods on the streets or washing clothes and cleaning houses in the neighboring middle-income South B estate. Many lost their livelihoods when businesses closed in due to government restrictions. The threat of famine was real and the news that the government would send money to the most vulnerable offered a glimmer of hope. Jane said she spoke frequently with families who told her they had cooked their last cup of ougali, a type of bread made from corn flour. Others told him that they could only boil water for the younger ones because they had nothing to cook. Although some landlords have given up on collecting rent, many others have evicted their tenants, putting them on the narrow streets of the neighborhood. Contracting Covid-19 was a secondary fear for people who slept hungry.
When a few people started to receive money, Jane was happy that much needed help had finally arrived. But many more are in urgent need of financial help.
Soon she had to deal with questions from people who had not received the funds while she had registered them. More asked her why the funds don’t come in every week. Others asked him about the different amounts people were receiving or why the funds stopped coming. Jane was frustrated because she didn’t have answers to these questions. She tried to appease her neighbors, asking them to be patient. She posed these questions to officials in the neighborhood government administration who told her that their role ended after completing the recording. Jane didn’t know who else she could ask.
There was no investigation into irregularities in the cash transfer program, and it is not clear whether all funds intended for vulnerable communities have reached them. With government restrictions still in place due to the growing number of Covid-19 infections, many sectors of the Kenyan economy will take time to recover, and low-income communities are still in urgent need of support. Although nothing has changed in terms of infections and restrictions at Covid-19, authorities have stopped money transfers and the discussion about the impact it has on low-income communities is dead. Yet questions continue to float uncomfortably in the air as Jane discusses the situation with her community. She tries to encourage them, but it’s hard to imagine a bright future, the end of the pandemic, or the return to normalcy, when the next meal is not guaranteed.