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Why Hustler Fund might not serve the intended purpose

Businesses in Kenya are affected by more than just the money factor.. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

You can decide to look at the Hustler Fund as an antithesis of some sort; an anticlimax and a big letdown from the high expectations that were set. You can decide to focus on the maximum loan limit and the 8 per cent tax rate to assert that the government has turned its back on its promise to provide grants, not loans. 

However, on the flip side, you can also decide to admit that in business, capital is not usually the greatest impediment. If you enumerate the number of businesses that can be initiated with Sh50,000 or less, you will be lost for choice. Better still if you do a simple survey from people in business, you will be surprised by the amount they started with.  

That is why my greatest worry with the Hustler Fund has nothing to do with the amount of money. I am more worried about whether there is a congruence between the intention of the government and how the intended beneficiaries will use the money.

The government’s intention, which was repeated severally during the campaigns, was to lift the people at the bottom. However, I am convinced the Hustler Fund as it is designed may only take care of the people at the bottom but will not lift them up.

The government may have to draw lessons from an institution that I read about recently. It wanted to design paths its students and staff would use to access lecture rooms, hostels and other key facilities. However, before they could do that, the landscapers left the field open. Gradually and naturally, paths emerged from the pattern of movement around campus. The landscapers had achieved what they wanted. When the time came for setting out the paths from the rest of the garden, they followed the exact pattern.

Let the government keenly observe and where possible track the usage of the funds. One thing the government will quickly discover is that just like a good number of borrowers on the existing platforms like M-shwari, Zenka and the rest, not many people will borrow to invest. They will borrow to fill a gap between their earnings and expenditure.

The greatest beneficiaries will be employed or people already in business. These are sure of their next source of money and can comfortably borrow. Most unemployed people will not even qualify to get a good some of the money for not being creditworthy.

Businesses in Kenya are affected by more than just the money factor. Just think of a businessperson who goes to only to end up with a bale full of oversized clothes. Think of a farmer who gets to the market only to find it full of imports from Tanzania or to be forced to sell at a throwaway price by the ever-powerful brokers. In short, how Kenyans will utilise the funds, will not be exactly how the government intended it. But, the government has a chance to respond by improving the Fund based on the pattern of usage that will emerge.