Villagers gathered to celebrate their basic income in the local church building

By: Billy Juma Munda, Evans Ododa, Lena Stark

Kowiti-A is a small village in Kisumu County in Kenya. It is twenty-three kilometres away from Kisumu town and has a population of 782 people of which 415 are adults and 367 are children below 18 years. Most of the people are engaged in farm-related livelihood activities. The village population is distributed among six clans. The nearest town Ahero is about 3 kilometres from the village.

About a year ago, two teachers from this village made a chance acquaintance, through social media, with members of an organisation called Mission Possible 2030 (MP2030). The context was basic income. They had heard about the idea of basic income from a local politician and began exploring it on the internet, only to realise that a global movement for it exists. MP2030 believes that without waiting for nation states to implement a basic income policy, we should start implementing a basic income by mobilising both individual donors and communities. This conversation led to MP2030 launching a project in Kowiti called Equalize in a humble way. From September 2020, the project gave a basic income of about 1100 Kenyan Shillings(KES) (10 US Dollars) per month to 10 people randomly selected through a raffle.

To facilitate money transfers, the teachers formed a local community-based organisation called Rural Action CBO (RACBO) so that it is a community initiative and money transfers happen in a transparent way. MP2030 transferred money to RACBO which in turn transferred to individuals via M-PESA, which is the popular mobile money transfer platform in Kenya.

These ten people received money for about eleven months, when another chance acquaintance gave a big boost to the project. This time the acquaintance took place between MP2030 and impact Market. impactMarket is a decentralized poverty alleviation protocol built by impactLabs, a company based in Portugal. It uses blockchain technology to enable any vulnerable community to implement poverty alleviation mechanisms, such as for instance, an Unconditional Basic Income. The protocol uses Celo Dollars, or cUSD, a stable-coin whose value is pegged to the US Dollar.

Ordinarily, you need an app for it and therefore a smartphone. As most of the villagers have no smartphone in Kowiti-A, collaboration with Fintech partners Refugee Integration Organisation and Kotanipay were needed to make sure the villagers would receive a currency they can actually use for buying goods and services: Kenyan Shillings – KES.

M-pesa outlet in Kowiti-A

Money transfers in Kenya are relatively easy, because of the widespread use of m-pesa, a mobile payment system. After the so-called USSD integration (where the CELO dollars are exchanged for KES in the background), someone with a sim card can receive KES, and withdraw cash at an m-pesa shop in the village. One phone can have two sim cards, so two people can receive per phone line. it is not entirely without intermediaries yet, but less than 6% is lost in the transfer from CELO dollar to cash-KES.

Because of the collaboration with Impact Market and its Fintech partners, the process accelerated very quickly and by mid-August about 240 adults began getting a basic income of 7 USD a week. By end September 2021, all the 415 adults will get the basic income for a period of one year. The total amount allocated to Kowiti project is 166,000 US Dollars, i.e., KES 18.28 million. Each individual will get a total amount of KES 44,000 (USD 400). If this sounds unbelievable, the results that will flow from this initiative will be more so, several times over.

What kind of basic income is it?

It is very interesting and also surprising that this humble project almost fulfils all the five main characteristics of the BIEN’s definition of basic income.

Universal: Basic income is given to the entire adult population. Children are not included more for technical reasons – in the smart contract adopted by ImpactMarket only those who have a mobile phone line can be provided money.

Cash: The recipient encashes the transfer into the national currency at any m-pesa store in the village

Individual: Money is transferred to individuals and not households.

Periodic: Money is transferred once a week.

Unconditional: There are no conditions whatsoever that the recipients need to fulfil after having received the money.

What does this money mean for these villages?

Based on a 2015 household budget survey, Kenya defines its overall poverty line in rural areas as an individual per capita monthly consumption expenditure of less than 3252 KES (USD 30), and extreme poverty as per capita consumption expenditure less than 1954 KES (USD 18).

In this project, the recipients receive a monthly top up of 3000 KES (USD 28) which is a substantial boost to their income levels. In this first month of receiving the money, it was observed that many people who never used to eat a breakfast, have begun to eat breakfast. Food seems to be where the money is visibly going. In the coming months, this project is certainly going to have a big impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people of Kowiti-A. These narratives will be published on the website of Mission Possible 2030 in the coming months.

Billi Juma Munda and Evans Ododa are teachers living in Kowiti-A. Lena Stark is the Chair of Mission Possible 2030. For more information about the project, write to Lena at lena@missionpossible2030.com

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