Story of change, Buke's lifeline in the Oxfam/AHN cash transfer program in Marsabit County

Mr. Mohamed wario, an SND Project Officer-Cash Program, engaging Mrs. Buke Gababa at Rawana Village in Marsabit County, Kenya.

‘’My life has significantly changed since the cash support activity began. I have paid my debts and I am able to buy food and pay school fees for my children”
Mrs. Buke Gababa (58), one of the beneficiaries of the OXFAM-Asal Humanitarian Network (AHN)’ cash transfer program to vulnerable and drought-affected communities of Marsabit County in Kenya
Marsabit County beneficiary of the cash transfer program

‘’My life has significantly changed since the cash support activity began. I have paid my debts and I am able to buy food and pay school fees for my children” says Mrs. Buke Gababa (58), one of the beneficiaries of the OXFAM-Asal Humanitarian Network (AHN)’ cash transfer program to vulnerable and drought-affected communities of Marsabit County in Kenya.
Buke is a mother of eight children. She was born in (Rawana village) Uran Ward of Marsabit County; this is where she still lives. She does not have any formal job. Her children need food, but she can barely afford one meal a day for them. She has received a cash allocation of 8956 Kenya Shillings (equivalent of about 80 US Dollars). “Without the cash support, we would be sleeping hungry,” she says. On this day, she has bought a kilo of rice at 120 shillings (10 US dollars) and Beans at 80 Kenya shillings (0.86 dollar). She proceeded to prepare a mixture of rice and beans (Mchele-maharagwe in Kenya’s Swahili dialect), a local delicacy made from the mixture.

Her husband Mzee Gababa has travelled to Elledimtu, some 80km from Rawana where they live. He has taken the family’s remaining 10 cattle in search of better pasture. Chances are slim that he has found any pasture, because from SND’s (write in full) field monitoring there is no more pasture left anywhere in Sololo Sub-County. Basically, livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep are surviving on body fat reserves and nibbling on dry matter lying on the ground.
“The drought is very harsh. Livestock number is dwindling, water sources are few, shallow wells have all dried up long ago and boreholes are producing reducing quantities of water,” she says.

Buke keeps in touch with husband Gababa through mobile phone. The money received through the cash project has helped her afford some airtime cards. “We talk in the afternoon but not for long because the airtime is expensive. We only limit our discussion to the most critical matters, survival matters,” she says. Usually an airtime of 100 Shillings can be exhausted on a phone call after 20 minutes, and sometimes the connection is so poor that they cannot hear each other and have to speak loudly or repeat themselves.
During their conversations, Gababa informs her that he has sold the healthier ones to get some money for food and to pay the child’s school fees. The remaining goats are too thin and nobody is willing to buy them. There is a shallow well in Ellebor that is still producing water and all the animals have converged there. Other herders have migrated further to neighboring Ethiopia and Isiolo county. Generally, people are surviving from hand to mouth.
“If the drought persists, I will say a prayer to God to keep my children alive. I will do anything to protect my children to survive the drought,” says Buke.

How has the process of receiving money been?
“The advantage with this process is that when the money is sent it comes directly to our mobile phones, there are no intermediaries or agents who transact on our behalf. You can go to the M-Pesa shop and withdraw your money directly. It is transparent and straight-forward, even the old women understand what is going on,” she says.
“The support should continue at least until the end of the jilali (drought), the process also needs to consider those without mobile phones and just provide direct cash without Mpesa (mobile money transfer) option. Any other means of helping our people to overcome the drought is highly appreciated,” she says.
She fears that in future, droughts will likely become more frequent and a real threat to survival in the county. She narrated about a time when the drought occurred around 1980s. At that time, she was an unmarried girl. But since getting married she says the 2019 drought is proving to be extremely harsh, because it comes straight on the heels of the 2017 drought that claimed thousands of livestock and it was reported that some people also died. “We have not recovered yet, now another cycle of drought is upon us. Without this kind of support people would die,” she says.

What can be done?
Buke believes that there is a need for the government to boost destocking and support savings schemes and drought insurance initiatives. “The county and national government need to be more proactive and genuine in drought response. Accepting that people are facing such a situation is the first step towards finding solutions. Unfortunately, there is still much denial especially from national government’s point of view,” she says.

Buke believes that cattle are not drought resistant compared to camel and goats, underpinning their importance, as families dependent on cattle suffer more.  She pleads with AHN –Oxfam to consider a restocking program where vulnerable families are given goats and camels. 
“During the community mobilization exercise, we were involved in meetings where women leaders narrated that before the drought, they had merry-go-round (community savings program), where they  contributed some small amount of money toa kitty to boost their social welfare in the village, but all these have stopped due to ravaging drought. They requested for support and revival of the table banking initiative.

Story compiled by Mohamed Wario.

Project Officer –Cash Program