How might leaders lead on social protection in Kenya?
The economic impact of Covid-19 is hitting Kenya’s poorest the hardest. Kenya’s leaders need to act now to scale up an affordable, effective social protection system. With this in mind, we convened a discussion among leading thinkers, friends and practitioners with decades of experience working with many of the major institutions and government bodies that form the backbone of the country’s social protection system. Read on for their perspectives on what can done next;
“Africa seems to be suffering a slower pandemic [than the West], but the risks are still immense”.
Last week’s Economist warns that a global recession is upon us and is likely to stay for some time. In Africa, the coming economic challenges are at least as troubling as the health crisis. As highlighted by Wasafiri’s co-founder in April, recession will affect almost every aspect of the economy and impact just about every one of its 1.2 billion people.
As hardships start to bite, social protection mechanisms that deliver cash to the most vulnerable households are critical. Yet countries need to afford what they already have or wish to expand. Kenya has an advanced social protection system compared to many African countries, but it is fragmented, underfunded and not nearly as effective as it needs to be. The Government is keen to step up its efforts and to be seen doing so. But many questions remain to be answered;
Just what is the right scale for Kenya’s social safety net? Who should be targeted? Who will likely have to be left out?
Undoubtedly the need is high; perhaps half of Kenyan households are facing a significant drop in income due to the impact of Covid-19. The economic equation is stark – the finances available will only cover a much smaller fraction. These concerns are being raised in other assessments (e.g. from WFP, Shujaaz, Africa’s Voices, Dalberg, Village Enterprise, Boma and more). However, they are also telling us that disaster may be avoided – if the economy continues to loosen, markets are able to function, and social protection mechanisms deliver meaningful support.
Within these constraints, what does an effective response look like for Kenya’s leaders?
The country’s decision makers must act quickly – in a rapidly changing environment, armed with very imperfect information – to decide where to make investments, how to shift policy and how to make the most of the resources that are available right now.
In this context, we feel that lessons can be learned from previous experiences responding to slow-onset crises, (for example, such as severe drought). Doing so may create new perspectives on how public health protection measures (for example, closing informal markets) are having impacts that may come to be worse than the virus itself.
National food security does not appear to be a major concern at present, yet indications from the productive areas of Kenya are of farmers retaining domestic stocks. The knock on could be for farmers not to farm to their full potential in the season ahead resulting in an overall reduction in national food supply. This might store up problems for next year. One important question is: What might the government do to incentivise full agricultural production in the season ahead?
Social protection responses appear insufficient and it is not clear how they will be managed. A $10Bn price tag has been announced by the Government to supplement existing cash transfers for old people, the disabled and orphans and vulnerable children. The funding shortfall is not the only challenge – coordination and proliferation of efforts and initiatives is problematic, resulting in poor targeting and unequal coverage.
Here is a snapshot of current social protection efforts underway;
- A re-ignited urban transfer scheme through the Ministry of Interior (probably building on Urban Food Subsidy Programme from 2011 and again in 2017) is operating, though the numbers of people assisted and targeting methods are not public, and it provides circa Ksh4000 ($37) per month digitally.
- Ugogentilini.net reports that as part of the Kazi Mtaani initiative, 10,600 youths living in Nairobi’s slums (Mathare, Kibera, Mukuru and Korogocho) have been enlisted for local works (street cleaning, fumigation, garbage collection etc). Kazi Mtaani (Jobs in the Neighbourhood) is a public works program typically reaching 26,000 unemployed youth residing in 27 informal settlements of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera. Daily wage is about $6/day delivered via Mpesa.
- The website also reports that the Inua Jamii programme will provide 1,094,238 old age pension beneficiaries (mostly not in urban areas) with Ksh8,000 (US$ 80) to cushion them against the effects of the coronavirus. However, we understand the programme has been behind in its payments to date.
- Fee waivers on person-to-person mobile money transactions on M-PESA were approved. Also, a 100% tax relief for persons earning less than Ks.24,000 (US$ 240) is planned.
- For companies the government has announced a tax amnesty for all tax lapses over the past 5 years, with a 100% waiver on penalties and interest. The government has reduced income tax from 30% to 25% for higher rate earners.
- The Hunger Safety Net Programme has not scaled up but has the potential to do so in northern counties with additional resources and as appropriate needs are identified.
- There are also multiple NGO and CSO efforts to provide assistance, these initiatives range from micro-local to up to tens of thousands of people assisted. Shikilia is a new example of collaboration outside of Government to provide cash assistance in urban areas.
Kenya is not short of efforts to deliver and coordinate. Platforms on cash (there are several), including the Cash Working Group convened by the Kenya Red Cross and National Disaster Management Authority, the Working Group on Ultra Poverty which Wasafiri convened and which is co-chaired by DFID and the Social Protection Secretariat. These operate alongside Covid-19 related coordination fora. There are also several very active online groups where multiple players, including private sector start-ups, are sharing information and discussing the means to provide a coordinated response including information markets, targeting, minimum expenditure baskets. Coordination across these different hubs and stakeholder groups (e.g. between government, donors and civil society) is essential. Our sense is that there is a will, though a way of doing so is needed.
In this messy but important environment, what to do? We suggest five areas for attention….
- While many coordination and strategic fora exist – a super coordination platform that rises above, and is informed by the rest, is essential. This crisis surely creates an opportunity to spur such co-ordination. Could the Ministry of Social Protection and the current chair of the donor group operationalise champion such a concept?
- Active curation of information is essential. There is more and more information for everyone to handle. Some report an ‘infodemic’ which is a problem in so far as does not culminate in synthesised high-quality information, regularly updated, which is then used to drive coordination and decision-making. The people that can deliver this synthesis must be able to work with the best information across the Kenyan social protection system, and have the ears of relevant departments of government, donors, multilateral institutions, and NGOs? Signposting people towards collectively understood and verified information will be critical.
- Thought leadership should be actively encouraged from across the sector on what an effective scale and type of social protection response might be provided.There is also need, and arguably the opportunity from a crisis, to re-think social protection budgeting and provision for the medium-long term. This could consider questions such as I) fast-tracking the Enhanced Social Registry (ESR) which could form a national register of all poor households – up to 25 million. ii) donors and financial institutions could discuss with the Government of Kenya arrangements for funding for expanded social protection going forward and perhaps agree creative means of securing debt relief through evidence of social protection delivery in the aftermath of this pandemic iii) effective government decision and delivery mechanism for slow onset crises could be energised which is based on the drought model. A Social Assistance Fund (SAF) could be established building on efforts for a National Drought Emergency Fund, that after 5 years of design is not operational. The government and donors could feed into a Social Assistance Fund, with potential reach across the country (see I above), and from there funds could flow digitally, to different social protection instruments for disbursements with necessary provisions for transparency and accountability.
- Supporting micro-businesses at an unprecedented scale to sustain livelihoods and stop millions slipping back into extreme poverty. Shujaaz reported this week on their Covid-19 barometer that 91% of the young entrepreneurs they communicate with across the country had closed their business, and half of these told Shujaaz that they had managed to make 150 KES ($1.50) in the past week – compared with the usual 1000Kes ($10). A variety of existing networks exist to reach microenterprise owners – in both rural and urban areas. These networks range from the mobile phone companies who have poor households phone numbers and, in many cases, their mobile money accounts, to NGOs, CBOs, and Savings and Credit Organisations (SACCOs), and local government administrators who have good links with the community. These networks could be utilised for business advice, resources and cash transfers to enable the poorest to withstand the Covid-19 induced crisis. Microbusinesses are key to the food and trading systems.
- While macro-economic stability, and debt management are key, attention also needs to be given to sustaining Kenya’s vital national industries. The Kenya tourism industry for instance, accounts for 1.6 million livelihoods and brings in $1.6 bn a year. Infrastructure exists (payrolls, lists of employees) which could be utilised to ensure that laid off workers and staff, particularly those in critical industries such as horticulture and tourism are supported through the economic shock. Donors of countries originating large numbers of tourists could be encouraged to keep this sector on life support and avoid the perils of violent extremist or criminal organisations offering interim or long term opportunities to desperate communities.
The blog was written by Alex Rees, Fiona Napier, George Ndungu Kamau, Clare Gardner, Eunice Khaguli and Catherine Fitzgibbon.