‘Corona ikianza tulikuwa na kazi, lakini sasa hatuna’: Why Albert Otieno and Beatrice Mbendo now depend on social protection
Albert Otieno, 32, lives with his mother, two children and a cousin in Kayole, one of Nairobi County’s most densely populated estates.
Also Read: The unspoken inequality of the COVID-19
Before COVID-19 hit, he worked as a steward–what most people refer to as a bouncer–at a popular nightclub known as Tycoon on Uhuru Highway.
However, in March this year, everything changed. The Government announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew and ordered that all bars be shut down as part of efforts to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Albert lost his job: he could no longer buy food for his family or even help his mother pay rent.
“Kama saa hii tuko na deni ya Ksh.18,000. Tumeongea na landlord atupatie muda ili tutafute pesa. Mum huangalia watoto wadogo wa neighbours wakienda kibarua na hiyo ndio inamsaidia kupata pesa kidogo ya food (Like now we have rent arrears of Ksh.18,000. We have talked to the landlord to give us a bit more time to look for money. My mother looks after the neighbour’s children when the parents go to work and that is what helps her get a little money for food),” he told Citizen Digital.
Three years ago, Albert worked with an Israeli firm installing security systems such as cameras, biometrics and automatic doors for different firms including some based in Daadab. At the time, he lived with his wife in their own house, still in the Kayole area.
He would get a regular income of Ksh.17,500 and sometimes even more when he travelled. His wife and children enjoyed having three regular meals a day. But that contract ended and that is how he ended up working as a bouncer. In the advent of COVID-19, which resulted in him losing his job at the club, Albert reached out to his contacts and some of them helped him find freelance installation jobs.
“Corona ikianza, bado nilikuwa napata hizo security jobs hapa na pale. Lakini sasa vile gava ilisema story za social distancing na vitu zingine, watu wakaanza kuogopa kuniitia kazi. Ndio nikafukuzwa kwangu juu singeweza kuafford hiyo rent sasa. Imagine…mimi ni 32 years na naishi na mother yangu. Bibi yangu pia aliona hawezi ishi kwa hii room moja na watoto na mathe akatuacha (Initially when the coronavirus pandemic started, I would get security jobs once in awhile, here and there. But when the government introduced social distancing and other measures, people began to fear calling me for work. I was evicted from my house as I could no longer afford to pay rent. Imagine…I am 32 years old and I live with my mother. My wife could not stand to live in a one-room house with our children and my mother so she left),” Albert said.
Through the Nyumba Kumi policing initiative, Albert met Chairman Geoffrey Kamau who told him about a cash transfer program that offers monetary support for vulnerable Kenyans. After several assessments, his application for assistance was approved and he received Ksh. 7,780 for three months. “Hiyo pesa ilinisaidia kupunguza deni ya rent kiasi na kununua food (That money helped me to reduce the rent arrears a bit and buy food),” he says.
The program is an initiative of a consortium of NGOs — Oxfam Kenya, The Kenya Red Cross Society, Concern Worldwide, ACTED, IMPACT, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) and the Wangu Kanja Foundation — and is funded by the European Union.
It supports cash transfers to vulnerable families in Nairobi using Safaricom’s mobile money platform: M-Pesa. So far, the consortium has transferred Ksh. 326,734,040 to 16,411 vulnerable families.
‘I send my children to Muthurwa to pick leftovers,’ Beatrice says
38-year-old Beatrice Achungo Mbendo recently gave birth to a baby boy. She and her four children aged 13, 11, 2 and one month live in Muthurwa, another highly populated estate in Nairobi. She told Citizen Digital that she has another child aged 9 who lives with her mother in Mulwanda, Kakamega County.
Before COVID-19, Beatrice says she worked as a cleaning lady. “Nilikuwa napata kibarua ya kufulia watu nguo huko Kileleshwa lakini sasa vile nilipata mtoto sina kazi. Watu wanaogopa corona na pia niko na mtoto mdogo kwa nyumba siwezi kumuacha (I used to get domestic work like washing clothes for clients in Kileleshwa but now that I gave birth I have no income. People fear coronavirus and I have an infant who I cannot leave in the house).”
Fending for her children, she says, has become an uphill task particularly after her husband abandoned her with the children at the beginning of the year. “Maisha imekuwa ngumu. Aliniacha mimba ikiwa na wiki mbili. Mara nyingi inabidi nitume watoto waende Muthurwa Market waokote chakula yoyote watapata ili tusilale njaa (Life has become difficult. He abandoned me when I was two weeks pregnant. Most of the times now I have to send my children to Muthurwa Market to get leftover food so that we don’t sleep hungry),” she says.
The cleaning jobs that she once looked forward to in Kileleshwa, one of the leafy suburbs in the capital, are no longer available. Beatrice says when she was pregnant, she would sit on a stone waiting for hours on end for her clients to call her but her phone remained silent. According to her, some feared being exposed to coronavirus while others lost their jobs and could no longer afford to have her clean for them.
And now with no income, Beatrice says she is unable to pay the Ksh. 4,500 required for rent. “Hata landlord amenipigia jana akiniuliza rent ya October nitalipa lini ili asinifurushe hapa. Ile pesa ya Oxfam ikiingia ndio nilikuwa natumia kulipa rent na kununulia watoto chakula (The landlord called me yesterday to ask when I would be paying the October rent so that he does not evict me. The money from Oxfam is what I was using to pay rent and buy the children food),” she told Citizen Digital.
In July, a food security study involving 10 informal settlements in Nairobi revealed that 54.8% of informal settlement households were severely food insecure.
The study was conducted by the consortium of NGOs — Oxfam Kenya, The Kenya Red Cross Society, Concern Worldwide, ACTED, IMPACT, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) and the Wangu Kanja Foundation — with funding from the European Union.
And in another study conducted by TIFA, 47% of respondents reported that they had experienced loss of employment after COVID-19 hit. 42% of them also noted that their income from self-employment or casual labour had significantly reduced.
Three-quarters of the respondents further intimated that they knew someone or a family member evicted from the house over nonpayment of rent. The impacts were found to be more profound and longer-lasting amongst low income-earners in more congested urban areas.
On Thursday, Labour and Social Services Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui stated that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of all its people.
“When we find partners willing to assist in this endeavour, we are truly grateful. In this respect, let me single out the EU who came at the start of COVID-19 pandemic to supplement the government efforts. I wish to thank the organiser of this forum for bringing all of us together to share our experiences in the way we react to shock such as COVID-19 and hence come up with strategies that can withstand the test of time,” he said during a conference in Nairobi that discussed how to raise the social protection floor.
The conference was organised through the European Union’s COVID-19 program dubbed ‘Nyavu za Afya na Usalama’ that targets vulnerable informal settlement residents in Nairobi.
And according to Mr. John Gachigi, Head of Social Assistances Unit at the Department of Social Protection, the Kenyan Government allocated Ksh. 10billion towards the COVID-19 emergency support program which impacted over 336,000 people who received cash transfers. “Over Ksh. 200million was specifically allocated to persons living with disabilities,” he told the forum.
On his part, EU Ambassador to Kenya Simon Mordue said around the world, including in Kenya, Governments have strengthened their social protection support in response to COVID-19 and the European Union supports such schemes in 29 countries. “In Nairobi we are currently supporting 20,000 households to receive direct and unconditional cash transfers via M-Pesa to cushion the effects of COVID-19,” he told the forum.
Lauren Landis (Director of Nutrition at the Word Food Program) called on governments to add more people to their safety nets program while Lydia Zigomo (Regional Director at Oxfam in Horn East and Central Africa) called for increased focus on long term programs.
“Innovation is the crux of advancing social safety nets and impact interventions, which would go hand in hand with multi-sectoral partnerships,” added Rachel Nguli, the Products and Services Manager at Safaricom.