Learning about State-sponsored social protection in Kenya

By StreetNet Media
December 2, 2022
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A group of StreetNet affiliates had the opportunity to participate in an exposure visit in Nairobi, Kenya, to better understand the State-sponsored social protection schemes in the country. Together, we learned a lot and will now take these learnings back to our countries!

Advocating for social protection for informal economy workers

StreetNet and WIEGO have been developing the project Empowering self-employed informal workers for social protection in Africa. The goal of the project, according to WIEGO Director of Social Protection Programme Laura Alfers, is to “help organizations of informal economy workers to develop their strategies so they are better able to participate in dialogue and other actions regarding social protection, so they can increase access of social protection to informal economy workers”.

Several of StreetNet African affiliates followed a 6-week course about Social Protection Advocacy, during which they developed their own strategies. Now, they had the chance to put some of their knowledge to the test during this exposure visit to Kenya. The delegation was composed of participants from AVEMA (Zambia), FIWON (Nigeria), SLeTU (Sierra Leone), TUICO (Tanzania), ZCIEA (Zimbabwe), and also our Kenyan affiliate KENASVIT.

Understanding social protection and preparing questions

In the African context, Kenya stands out in terms of State-sponsored social protection schemes. Therefore, both WIEGO and StreetNet agreed that it would be the ideal country for this exposure visit. We were hosted by our Kenyan affiliate, KENASVIT – Kenya National Alliance of Street Vendors and Informal Traders, who was  eager to jointly organize the visit. In the words of KENASVIT’ President, Anthony Kwache, “Social protection is very important for informal economy workers, not only in Kenya, not only in Africa, but in the whole world”.

During the first day of the visit, participants had the chance to understand more about the Kenyan social protection context through presentations by Anthony Kwache. Caroline Kioko, Acting Director of Development of Business, Marketing and Trade at the Medium and Small Entrepreneurs  Authority of Kenya, also participated in the morning session, presenting the work of the Medium and Small Entrepreneurs Authority and informing participants of a soon to be launched MSE fund.

They also presented their own advocacy strategies developed during the course and learned more about different models of social protection through a presentation by Gbenga Komolafe, General Secretary of FIWON (Nigeria), who has invested in a cooperative as a way to compensate for the lack of State-sponsored schemes.

After a day of dynamic discussions and sharing of experiences, participants then prepared a few questions to ask government officials during the following days of the exposure visit. They were assisted by Laura Alfers, who presented the most common issues of social protection schemes, such as:

  • Inadequate legal frameworks
  • Struggles in financing
  • Poor or inadequate design
  • Administrative barriers
  • Lack of participation of informal economy workers

Little by little, promoting savings by informal economy workers: the example of Haba Haba

The first government institution we visited was the National Social Security Fund offices in Nairobi. The National Social Security Fund  is a State corporation in Kenya, providing social assistance programmes that are government sponsored. However, traditionally informal economy workers were not covered by the fund. The NSSF recognized that this was a problem, since 82% of Kenyan workers are engaged in the informal economy.

That is why they created the Haba Haba product in 2019, which translates to “little by little”. It is specifically designed for informal economy workers. They made it possible for people to register through their phones, so traders, for example, don’t leave their workplaces. Workers contribute with 25 Kenyan shillings per day and may take out 50% of their saved earnings after five years. They can contribute either daily, weekly, annually, with a lot of flexibility. The contributions are credited immediately and there are no penalties for late remittances. “We are also working together with other partners, such as microcredit institutions, banks and other strategic partners, so that we can enhance our access channels and also to register members” explains Milicent Awiti, Manager of Strategy and Change at NSSF.

Participants were quite impressed with the scheme and engaged in a lively discussion, encouraging NSSF officials to engage more with informal economy workers’ organizations such as KENASVIT to register more people in Haba Haba. 

Improving access to healthcare

We visited the offices of the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), another State Corporation in Kenya. NHIF insurance offers several benefits that cover both outpatient and inpatient needs, which provide access to the 75% of hospital in Kenya which are government funded. Currently, it covers only 32% of the population (workers and families). One of the reasons for this is the difficulty in retaining informal economy workers as members. 

The registration to NHIF can be done online, or in any of the 156 NHIF service points in Kenya. It only requires you to fill out a form, have an ID and 3 months of contributions (totaling 1500 Kenyan shillings). Informal economy workers are required to contribute 6000 kenyan shillings annually, about 48 USD, which can translate to 500 a month, about 4 USD. They can pay upfront or monthly. The penalties were quite high before, but now are just 10%. Still, Wambugu Kariuki, Head of Department of Beneficiary Management of NHIF, states that they still face issues of low enrollment of informal economy workers, who tend to join only when they are sick. “We are really appealing to all informal economy workers to enroll as soon as possible”, he says.

The participants then discussed with NIHF officials some reasons why it might be difficult for informal economy workers to enroll and once again encouraged a close partnership between NIHF and KENASVIT to reach street and market vendors.

Inua Jamii, a pioneer social assistance cash transfer program in Africa

On the third and final day, participants had the chance to listen to Mac’Botongore Nicholas, Former Deputy Director of State Department for Social Protection and one of the creators of the pioneer Inua Jamii program. Inua Jamii was a cash-transfer program targeting elderly people, orphans & vulnerable children and also people with severe disabilities. Beneficiaries of the scheme received 2000 shillings per month (at the time, around 37 USD), given bimonthly. 

By the time the former Deputy Director left the Department, 1.2 million beneficiaries existed of the three programs. The annual budget of the program is 25 billion shillings. Since the program started, it has cost the government 200 billion shillings. In the evaluation of the program, many beneficiaries reported having used the money, even though it is a limited amount, to improve homes, start businesses, keep children in school, and so on, so Mac’Botongore Nicholas does not expect the government to change it anytime soon.

Participants were impressed with the success of the scheme and how it was made easily accessible to people in need. Laura added “that is what is so unique about Kenya, you always have some sort of protection. In most African countries, you only have insurance, so if you do not contribute, you are not entitled to anything.”

The way forward

The participants agreed that the exposure visit had been extremely valuable and that they now had several ideas to bring back to their home countries. Although schemes such as Haba Haba were very impressive, they also understood the need to advocate for other forms of protection that did not require direct contributions, such as Inua Jamii. 

KENASVIT was also encouraged to form close partnerships with NIHF and NSSF in the context of the work, as well as with the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU-K), which also received our delegation and was open to form a stronger bond with organizations of informal economy workers. KENASVIT and COTU-K committed to working closer together in the future to defend the rights of all workers in Kenya.

Everyone was  eager to continue developing and monitoring social protection advocacy in the region and in their respective countries. In 2023, the participants will have the chance to visit Nigeria and discover the case of FIWON’s worker-led cooperative as a provider of social protection. Stay tuned to learn more! 

See the video report below: