An Informal Currency for Slum-Dwellers, or a Nefarious Separatist Plot?

Bangla-Pesa notes, an alternate currency that helps stabilize slum-dwellers’ finances. Photo by Jason Patinkin

Emma Onyango is a 40-year-old widow who supports eight children in a slum called Bangladesh near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. Only one child, a 14-year-old daughter, is hers. The rest are orphans. Onyango has lived there since she moved from her family’s inland village years ago in hopes of finding better work. But like many rural-urban migrants, she barely scrapes by, selling tomatoes and drinking water to earn around 500 shillings ($5.88) a day. It’s not enough to feed everyone, so she relies on donations to keep bellies full. Still, there are nights when there simply isn’t enough to eat.

With so much to worry about and her ancestral home far away, Emma isn’t the type of person one expects to be involved in a plot to secede the coast from the rest of Kenya. But that’s what she was accused of last month after she started trading some colorful pieces of paper in exchange for sugar, flour and potatoes.  Read more…

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