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How Local Cryptocurrencies Help Kenyans Survive the Coronavirus Crisis

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Kenya’s local cryptocurrencies are helping communities survive the coronavirus crisis. One example is the recently-launched Sarafu, which is used alongside the Kenyan Shilling to make payments locally.

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The cryptocurrency market is normally discussed from the perspective of investment opportunities. However, many coins and tokens have a real utility that may change lives.

The global financial crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit African countries like Kenya very hard. The World Bank approved a $1 billion support package for the country, but that doesn’t solve all problems.

The good news is that so-called community inclusion currencies (CICs) are doing a great job of supporting the lower and middle class. The goal of CICs is to help small businesses by enabling daily spending within local communities. With CICs in circulation, people can save their fiat money to pay for bills or conduct transactions with larger businesses.

Sarafu is one of the first CICs that are digital and powered by blockchain. It was developed by Grassroots Economics, a Kenyan nonprofit organization that specializes in creating CICs. In fact, it is the only entity that builds such currencies in the country. In the last decade, it has launched CICs to 45 communities. The nonprofit adopted blockchain two years ago.

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Sarafu is now mostly used in Mukuru Kayaba, a low-income neighborhood in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. The digital currency uses the technology of BlockScience and has been set up in collaboration with the Danish Red Cross.

Kenya

Mukuru Kayaba, Nairobi, Kenya; Source: restofworld.org

One Sarafu is equal to one Kenyan shilling. More than 500 Kenyans per day are registering the currency system to get an amount for free. Sarafu leverages a special community fund with financial contributions from donors. Besides the donations, locals can earn Sarafu by accepting it for the goods they sell.

Sarafu Helps Many Kenyans Cope With Unemployment

A lot of people living in Mukuru Kayaba are unemployed or have casual daily wages. With Safaru, they can buy goods and services like water, soap, a haircut, or clothes. Newly registered members receive a balance of 400 Sarafu, which is about $4.

For example, 53-year-old Grace Hellen works as a tailor and saw her income plummeting during the pandemic. She receives 620 Sarafu per week on top of the $19 she earns for volunteering as a community healthcare worker. A mother of five children, Hellen said:

“Life would be more difficult without this, not only for me but the community as a whole because many people are going through the same challenges.”

To avoid confusion, the Sarafu cryptocurrency used by Kenyans is different from the Tanzanian mobile payment system with the same name.

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