The government has pumped more than Sh1.5 billion into the economy to support hard-hit youth in the informal urban settlements monthly, perhaps helping stem a social and economic catastrophe in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unknown to many, the Kazi Mtaani concept championed by President Uhuru Kenyatta has seen over 280,000 youths from the urban informal settlements working on various public projects as part of an elaborate social protection programme aimed at providing money to meet basic needs, drive a sense of purpose among youth, and help them to create a bond with service to their communities.
Designed as an innovative social protection scheme, Kazi Mtaani has had a multiplier effect at the grassroots level; it has helped deliver food to families that would otherwise be hunger-stricken and tamed instances of opportunistic crimes arising from the need to meet daily living costs among youth with no labour opportunities.
See, youth economic unrest the world over provides an existential threat that if unchecked can easily boil over as was witnessed in 2010/11 with the Arab Spring. The sense of not being heard and a general lack of socio-economic opportunities can often create latent restlessness, which if improperly harnessed, can drive expressions of discontent into significant political and security events.
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Looking back, no one could have foreseen that Kenya’s announcement of its first Covid-19 case in March of this year would lead to the economic crisis that is now playing out all over the country. Still, alongside the consideration of the public health measures that were needed was a discussion on potential impacts to the economy.
Locally, the just-in-time responses by the government undoubtedly provided an avenue to manage potential socio-economic impacts of the containment strategies that were on the table.
Kazi Mtaani was rolled out at the end of April as a social protection and local economic recovery activity that would utilise extended public works projects (EPWPs) to provide social relief by providing jobs and facilitating hygiene interventions to help contain the Covid-19 pandemic in informal urban settlements.
With limited budgetary resources then, Phase 1 of NHP programme delivered wages for 31,689 informal settlement dwellers from counties that had the first registered instances of Covid-19 and that were hard hit by the cessation of movement policies.
Over the subsequent two months from the launch in April 2020, youth workers engaged in the programme were provided with daily work that allowed them to meet their basic economic needs and ensure community adherence to Covid-19 containment measures.
A review of Phase 1 of the Kazi Mtaani project and its impact provided a platform for President Kenyatta to expand the project almost tenfold with a Sh10 billion budget outlay and capacity to absorb nearly 280,000 workers at the start of the second phase in July 2020.
While the first pilot phase of the project, funded by the National Government and supported by the World Bank to a tune of Sh740 million, covered selected informal settlements in the eight counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kwale, and Mandera, the second phase now covers all 47 counties.
In Phase Two, the youth are engaged in the same work as those in Phase 1 as well as other works of a permanent nature that are supposed to impact communities. Some of the projects being undertaken in this phase include creation of access roads within informal settlements, the paving of streets using cobblestones, preparation of stabilised soil blocks for the construction of classrooms, painting and repair of public facilities and public toilets as well as planting and growing of trees. Some cohorts are also engaging in urban agriculture.
To ensure transparency and accountability, Phase Two workers were enrolled through a Kazi Mtaani App that facilitates daily clocking in and out of workers. This was to avoid situations where some of the youth were registered and not showing up for work or engaging in double registration. Teething problems such as prompt payments continue to be addressed largely due to data mismatch.
Majority of the problems with payments emanate from data mismatch. Some workers provided numbers which do not match their ID numbers, while others have inactive phone numbers, or unregistered lines on M-Pesa. All these challenges continue to be handled through clearly established claims processes that are managed by County Implementation Committees who are in touch with the workers on a daily basis.
-Mr Hinga is the PS Housing and Urban Development