How Refugees in Kenya Built a Thriving Sh5.6bn Economy Inside Camps

By Elvis Mboya

An innovative idea to contract a limited number of refugee and host community-run shops as distributors, and give a proportion of assistance to refugees in the form of mobile money to buy food of their choice has birthed and inspired a serial entrepreneurial spirit in Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee camps in northern Kenya, that the World Food Programme (WFP) now estimates to be worth up to $56.6 million (Sh5.6 billion).


The goal has been to increase choice for refugees and nurture the food retail market, as opposed to distributing regular physical food ratios, according to a WFP report co-authored by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre.


The result has been bustling retail markets and restaurants in Kakuma One, the proposed Huduma-Biashara Business Centre, and the new market- based Kalobeyei settlement, that according to WFP, have become examples of the shift towards private sector-led development in refugee contexts.


It all started in 2015, when WFP introduced Bamba Chakula (BC) (‘get food’ in Swahili) programme, a cash-based intervention designed as an alternative to in-kind food assistance. It represents a transitional arrangement between in-kind and full-cash assistance.


By providing refugees with mobile currency supplied through Safaricom’s M-Pesa and Equity Money, it allows recipients to choose the food items that suit their preferences, with some restrictions relating to commodities like alcohol and tobacco, while supporting the growth of local markets. The currency is only redeemable from contracted traders, who have been able to apply for BC contract during a series of competitive application processes…Read more>>

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