Currencies

Mombasa County opposes use of slum currency

Residents of Bangladesh, the largest slum in the county, have been using Bangla-Pesa as a complementary currency. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NMG
Residents of Bangladesh, the largest slum in the county, have been using Bangla-Pesa as a complementary currency. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NMG 

A senior Mombasa County official wants the use of an informal payment system known as Bangla-Pesa stopped, arguing that it is not an official medium of exchange.

"It is just barter trade and it should be discouraged. We are in the 21st century. How can people still engage in what was done centuries ago? It is inappropriate," County commissioner Evans Achoki said Thursday.

Residents of Bangladesh, the largest slum in the county, have been using Bangla-Pesa as a complementary currency.

According to the Grassroots Economics website, Bangla-Pesa is a unit of credit that provides a means of payment that is complementary to official money.

As such, it helps to stabilise the community in the face of monetary volatility by allowing members of it network to trade with each other without using the national currency.

Launched in 2013, it is a non-profit initiative meant to bolster the economy of the informal settlements by organising small-scale enterprises into business networks, through which members can utilise a community currency to mediate trades.

The residents have been using the currency printed in Germany to pay school fees, funeral expenses, and as church offering among other uses.

Credits are issued in the form of paper vouchers as payment for goods and services.

Business as usual

The vouchers merely represents the goods and services of the business network, and come in denomination notes of five, 10, 20, 40 and 50.

A member is given a maximum of 400 Bangla-Pesa, of which 200 goes back to the community and is used in cleaning up the area.

Members of the Bangladesh Business Network, led by the national chairman Paul Mwania, said the business will continue.

"It is a business-to-business voucher system that provides a means of payment that is complementary to the Kenyan official money as the economy is dwindling...People don’t understand this model. They should come and learn from us," he said.

Mr Mwania said that in 2013, six members, including inventor Will Ruddick, were arrested and charged with possession of illegal currency papers, because they were thought to be a secessionist group like the Mombasa Republican Council.

They were later released and the charges dropped.

Mr Mwania, who runs a butcher shop, trades meat for water from Emma Onyango.

He said the goods exchanged should be of the same value.

For example, he can get 10 jerry cans of water from Ms Onyango at Sh100 and she can get meat of the same value.

The network consists of people who run different businesses.

Ms Onyango, the grassroots coordinator, was among the six who were arrested four years ago.

"We started with around 100 members but we have grown to 2,000 and more want to join," she said.

Meet Uhuru, CBK governor

The group also uses Kenyan currency to buy stock.

The Bangladesh Business Network hopes to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and Central Bank of Kenya governor Patrick Njoroge to "enlighten" them about the currency and forge better relations.