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September 21, 2018

Inua Jamii robs elders of dignity

"Inua Jamii is a good idea that could grow into something of value, but for now it is embarrassing senior citizens."
"Inua Jamii is a good idea that could grow into something of value, but for now it is embarrassing senior citizens."

Inua Jamii is a good idea that could grow into something of value, but for now it is embarrassing senior citizens. The beneficiaries complain of a bimonthly stipend that is largely wasted on the road. The execution rides on harassment. There is no better way of describing the frantic struggle to receive the monthly Sh2,000 allowance from the government.

Consider the case of a 96-year-old woman from Koredo, west of Karachuonyo, along the shores of Lake Victoria. She travels to Homa Bay town to collect Sh4,000 every two months. But the granny cannot walk to Homa Bay, 40km away, to collect the money. She cannot trek the rugged village paths to the nearest shopping centre, either.

A wheelbarrow would have done, but the recent rains left impassable, wide gaping gullies. Pushing a wheelbarrow along these cattle paths with a senior citizen as a passenger is a dangerous adventure.

From the nearest shopping centre, Aros, cannot walk along another dilapidated murram road to Pala market, where there is a possibility of being lifted onto a matatu to Homa Bay town. The access roads are worn out - a statement that devolution is not working here.

She cannot be lifted onto a motorcycle because she cannot sit on one and ride along neglected access roads. So how does she get to the nearest Kenya Commercial, Equity, or Co-operative Bank in Homa Bay town to earn her stipend?

Hiring a Probox to Homa Bay is Sh3,500 return, for a trip to collect Sh4,000. She needs water and food during the whole-day mission. By the time she and her escort return to her house in Koredo, all the money will have been spent.

It is equally painful for other senior citizens who can still be lifted onto a motorcycle and a ride to the nearest main road to pick a matatu. By the time the elders return home, a good chunk of the stipend will have been spent. The budget lines cannot uplift the family.

Worse, some of these citizens cannot make the journey to the bank on their own. They need escorts, who will also have to be paid after spending a day, or days, chaperoning senior citizens.

It is not always possible to gather five such citizens to car pool to the banks at the county headquarters. The beneficiaries are scattered across sublocations. Reaching the town where the banks are is not always a guarantee the monthly allowance shall be paid on arrival. You have to wait; you have to plead.

Accounts of ‘come tomorrow, or next week, for the money’ are numerous. Tales of ‘the money has not arrived’ are familiar. Sometimes senior citizens make more trips, and spend more money, before they can earn the stipend.

The last payment of Sh4,000 came in May. The beneficiaries are still waiting for the June and July disbursement. The idea of paying the stipend is good, if only as a pilot scheme. But there should be a better way of handling elderly Kenyans who receive the stipend.

A humane society, even a capitalist one, where men-eat-men, needs to consider the welfare of the vulnerable, especially the elderly. It is not what you give the old people that counts, how they are treated also matters for their dignity.

Launching the initiative, President Uhuru Kenyatta underscored the reasoning behind the idea. “This programme will ensure that our senior citizens get a Sh4,000 stipend bimonthly to live a dignified and respectable life.” The dignity part is being lost as senior citizens struggle to get the money.

Finance CS Henry Rotich factored the financing of the initiative in 2017-18, under the Universal Pension Scheme. Brazil, South Africa and the Philippines are among the countries with good practices, which Kenya should replicate. The initiative is a non-contributory pension fund remitted directly to senior citizens through Equity Bank, Co-operative Bank, and KCB. It is a social pillar of Vision 2030, a national development blueprint.

The banks need a better way of sending the money to the beneficiaries. Expecting 90-year-olds to travel tens of kilometres to earn their stipend is not one of the ways. A reliable mobile telephone account can be a direct and cost-effective way of paying out to senior citizen in far-flung villages.

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