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Kenya: Introducing digital cash in Dadaab – the world's biggest refugee settlement

The European Commission and the World Food Programme have introduced digital cash transfers in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in August 2015. © WFP/Martin Karimi

Working with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the EU supported the introduction of digital cash in the Kakuma refugee camps in August 2015. It was the first project of its kind in Kenya. The cash transfers are dubbed 'bamba chakula' and help replace part of the refugees’ monthly food ration. The system allows people to buy food that is not given at distribution centres such as meat, milk, fruits and vegetables. The cash is sent through mobile phone and can be used in selected food shops. Since January 2016, mobile cash transfers have also been introduced in the world's biggest refugee settlement in Dadaab, also located in Kenya. Together, Dadaab and Kakuma are home to over 500 000 refugees. A total of 173 000 refugee households have so far been reached with 'bamba chakula'.

Jean-Marc Jouineau, the European Commission's expert in charge of refugee programmes in Kenya, tells us more about how and why the EU supports cash-based transfers in Kenya. @eu_echo

Jean-Marc Jouineau, Refugee Programme Officer for Kenya, ECHO @eu_echo

What is your assessment of the 'bamba chakula' project so far?

I am very satisfied with it. It is something that the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has been supporting for many years. People receiving the same food over and over again, with no choice between different options, is far from satisfactory. We are very happy to have launched digital cash in Kenya's refugee camps and have been following its evolution closely, especially in Kakuma where it has been in operation for several months. Now we can see exactly how it is working and we look forward to seeing similar progress in Dadaab. As a donor, we are involved and committed to supporting the approach both now and in the future.

What is the role of the European Commission in the programme?

First of all, we have provided the money for the cash transfers. But we have also been closely involved right from the beginning, alongside WFP and other partners, in developing the programme and deciding on how to implement it. It is important for the Commission to support cost-efficient programmes, and value-for-money is key. We know that with 'bamba chakula help goes straight to the beneficiaries and to those in need in the best possible way.

What are the benefits of digital cash transfers?

We, at the European Commission, are always exploring new and innovative approaches to humanitarian support. 'Bamba chakula' is a good example; it allows us to make the most of the money we have and it helps us provide the best type of support for our beneficiaries. In many places across the world, humanitarian aid has been provided in the same way for quite some time. We all know this is not satisfactory, so we need to look at other ways to better deliver it—in particular, food assistance. We believe a programme like 'bamba chakula' is the way to go, not only for the beneficiaries, but also for WFP as our partner. Focusing support on digital cash and minimising general food distribution can save WFP both time and money, which lets us invest our energy in other areas.

Why do you think this is important for the refugees in Dadaab?

Well, I think a programme like 'bamba chakula' has many advantages. It gives people choice, so they can get what they need for their families. It generates more interaction within the local community and it creates positive dynamics for the local markets. And of course it is also very good for people's own dignity: they feel like they are treated as regular customers and consumers.

What is next on the agenda for the Commission and WFP in Kakuma and Dadaab?

We would like to have 'bamba chakula' taken a step further. Right now we are in the mid-phase – testing the markets and rolling out the project in Dadaab. We would like to further work with WFP and other partners to explore how other types of support, like water and sanitation assistance, can be delivered using the same system. I believe the system of 'bamba chakula' can be adapted to other sectors to innovate humanitarian aid delivery.

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