The Kenyan economy spiraled into a whirlwind when the first case of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) was confirmed. This case was confirmed positive by the National Influenza Centre laboratory at the National Public Health Laboratories of the Ministry of Health on March 12. It involved a patient who had traveled to Kenya from the US through the United Kingdom on March 5.
Since then, the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease has been rising steadily in Kenya with every daily briefing by the Ministry of Health. Today, Kenya’s daily count is in triple digits. But apart from the threat of the spread of the highly infectious virus, Kenyans have been hard hit in the pocket.
Over the past three months, the majority of employers have been forced to declare certain job positions as superfluous and redundant. In the same vein, many have slashed salaries and others sent their employees packing. This is the unfortunate calamity that befell Ruth Chebet. She lost her job at a leading media house on March 23.
Incidentally, Ms. Chebet had just returned from an agonizing maternity leave. “I had taken a maternity leave in early August last year. Although I should have been back at work in early December, I suffered childbirth complications out of the cesarean procedure,” says Chebet. The 33-year-old mother of two ended up spending three additional months at the hospital. Her finances were drained as her health insurance card was disqualified from meeting some of her treatment costs. By the time she left the hospital in February, Chebet was broke.
“I decided to take a month’s rest and resume work in early March,” she says. But barely weeks after resuming work, Chebet received a staff memo that informed her of impending pay cuts and possible redundancy. “The letter said that the impact of the coronavirus had rendered some positions untenable. As a result, my employer would consider certain positions superfluous and redundant,” she says.
Unfortunately, her position as a production sub editor was one of the positions that were declared superfluous. Although Chebet received all her dues and pension benefits, most of them went to settling the soft loans that she had accumulated to meet her hospital bill. “I began to come down with stress. I wondered how I would survive, where my next meal would come from, and how I would meet my household budget,” she says.
Then on April 3, Chebet got a reprieve. Kenya’s leading telecommunications firm Safaricom announced that it had launched a program that would allow customers to use Bonga Points to pay for essential goods and services. The campaign dubbed Safaricom Bonga For Good was heaven sent for Chebet. “I thought it was just too good to be true, but it was. I had saved a combined 200,000 Bonga points in my two mobile phones,” says Chebet.
With one Bonga point going for Sh. 30 cents, Chebet could easily redeem some Sh. 50,000 at any of Safaricom’s 140,000 Lipa Na MPESA merchants countrywide. “This amount was sufficient to pay for my rent for the month of April, and meet my essentials’ household budget for the months of April and May,” she says.
Ms. Chebet, though, is not the only Kenyan whose bad fortune due to the coronavirus pandemic was turned around by this initiative. Within three weeks after launching, cash-starved Kenyans redeemed Sh. 131 million from the customer loyalty awards scheme. The majority of customers mainly redeemed their Bonga points for household shopping. “We have seen Kenyans lose some or all of their income as result of this pandemic, making it difficult to meet their needs. This initiative seeks to empower Kenyans to use the points earned from using Safaricom products over the years to pay for their essentials or to donate them to the most vulnerable in the society,” Safaricom chief executive officer Peter Ndegwa said. To redeem or transfer Bonga points, customers dialed *126#.
In response to the growing demand for the service, Safaricom extended the Safaricom Bonga For Good initiative for an extra 30 days to June 3, 2020. “By extending the initiative for a second month, we want to further support our customers to tap into the value of their Bonga Points to assist those in need as sign of goodwill,” said Mr. Ndegwa.