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Stories of the Inua Jamii Senior Citizens’ pension: Hopes for Kenya’s flagship universal pension programme

Ellen Jerotich on the Inua Jamii 70+ Pension

In a small rural community in Kenya’s Rift Valley, many older people are hopeful about the Inua Jamii Senior Citizens’ programme and the benefits that it could bring to their own wellbeing and that of their families, writes Anh Tran. As Ellen Jerotich stated during my visit to her house when I asked about her expectations for the pension:

“The only thing that I can assist my children and grandchildren with now is by showing them the way of life, as I don’t have anything else that I can provide for them. The pension will assist me to get food, satisfy my own needs and satisfy the needs of my children.” 

Outside Ellen’s house, it started pouring down, since it was the start of the long rainy season. So, I lingered a bit longer while we talked about her life, her family and stories of her past. Despite being around 100 years old, Ellen has a good memory and, during our conversations, she could recall many of her life stories beginning from childhood, including her migration to Uganda and her return to Kenya after independence. She speaks with joy about her relationship with her children and grandchildren, in particular, her grandson, Sammy, and his wife Jacqueline, who currently live with her and care for her. Despite this strong family bond, Ellen’s family faces many challenges including not always being able to afford enough food and healthcare for Ellen. Three generations live in a small mud house and they mainly rely on the income of Sammy, who earns 200 Shillings (US$2) for a 12-hour workday undertaking insecure casual labour on other people’s farms.

We had many of these types of encounters with older persons and their families members during the time we spent in Lolkeringet, a farming community of around 2,500 – 3,000 people in Nandi County, located in the Rift Valley. [1] My visit was part of Development Pathways’ research to gain insights into the new Inua Jamii Senior Citizens’ pension scheme and what it means to the community. The introduction of the pension marks an important milestone for social protection in Kenya since, for the first time, every person aged 70 years and above will receive a pension of 2,000 Shillings (US$20) per month. It is clear that the new pension is valued in Lolkeringet with many people stressing how it will be a necessity for  older persons so that they can afford their basic needs for survival. As 80 year old Kipkosgey expressed:

“If I receive the pension, I will live longer. If I don’t, I will die.”

Similarly, 89 year-old Paul Saina, a current recipient of the existing poverty-targeted Older Persons-Cash Transfer scheme claims:

“Older persons need monetary support for food and other needs, otherwise they will not survive much longer.”

Our first visit to Lolkeringet during April this year served as a baseline study, to gain perceptions about the programme in advance of the first payments, which are just starting. Over the course of the next three years, we will make follow-up visits to this community to identify what the pension means for older persons and their family members and how their daily lives, opinions and perceptions of the programme will change. During this initial baseline study, we visited 27 households, interviewed 40 older persons and family members and conducted three focus group discussions with groups of six to 15 older persons. In addition, we spoke to community leaders and had conversations with members of the local beneficiary welfare committee.

This blog is the first in a series of personal stories and our own short Pathways Perspectives papers – based on thematic areas – that will share experiences about impacts of the pension on the community of Lolkeringet. Lolkeringet contains a diversity of households with varying levels of income, ranging from households with a few acres of land for agriculture to produce food for the family, to the majority of households where multiple generations live under one roof and struggle to afford three meals a day or cover all of the necessary health costs. The range of different households located in Lolkeringet allows us to gain insights into the effect that the pension will have on the living standards of households living on different levels of income and with distinct family structures.

The community of Lolkeringet Locaton is populated by the Nandi sub-ethnic group of the larger Kalenjin tribe, a Nilotic ethnic group that predominantly resides in the Rift Valley. The community sits at a high altitude with panoramic views across the nearby fields and forests. Farming and land cultivation are the most important sources of food and income among community members. The region is known for its agricultural activities (maize and pineapples are abundant here), and Nandi County is also known as the Source of Champions, having delivered a high number of internationally renowned athletes. In Nairobi, we were told before our trip that the Kalenjin are known for their honesty and hospitality. Indeed, soon after our arrival, a large number of people in the community gave us a warm welcome and the close ties within the community ensured that news quickly spread that an international organisation was paying a visit to the future beneficiaries of the new pension programme.

We were able to observe family dynamics and daily customs in the community at first hand while we stayed with a family in one of the villages. On a daily basis, we had meals with the family while observing morning and evening chores of cooking and washing utensils. Our in-depth interviews not only allowed us to learn about people’s perceptions of the pension, but we were also able to place these into the context of their life stories and family connections. As a result, our interviews would often turn into long afternoons where we learned about older people’s stories of their past, their hopes for their children and the role that the pension could play in all of this.

When visiting households for our interviews, we found that older persons were often surrounded by multiple generations of children and grandchildren. It was clear that grandparents play an important role in the family, providing care for the children and receiving care from their family members in return. During the interviews, grandparents would often instruct the children to help with the chores while ensuring that the snacks that we brought were equally shared amongst them. However, this mutually enforcing care and support network faces challenges when income and assets are lacking and older persons do not possess an authoritative role as the provider of the family. Indeed, many older people in the community expressed their worry about not being able to provide their families with any monetary support or food. As a result, many older people expressed hopes that the pension would give them more autonomy by lessening the reliance on their children for food and basic needs while strengthening their ability to contribute.

In conclusion, without doubt this year will mark a significant milestone for Social Protection in Kenya as the Government will guarantee older persons over 70 a minimum income, a bold initiative that should impact positively on their wellbeing, and that of their families. Over the next three years, we will continue our visits to the community and the families that we met during our recent visit. Through our engagement with the people of Lolkeringet, we aim to gain an insight into the impacts that the pension transfer will have on the recipients’ daily lives and their living standards. Like the community members, we are hopeful and curious to see what the Inua Jamii Senior Citizens’ Scheme will mean for this community and for the nation as a whole.

 

[1] The estimated population size of Lolkeringet was 2,610 according to the 2009 Census

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