Dec 4, 2013
The Crime of Alleviating Poverty: A Local Community Currency Battles the Central Bank of Kenya
Posted on Jun 28, 2013
By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt
This piece first appeared at Web of Debt.
Complementary currencies can help eradicate poverty.
Proving that may be difficult in complex economies, due to the high number of factors influencing outcomes. But in an African slum with little of the national currency available, supplying residents with an alternative currency has a positive effect that is obvious, immediate and incontrovertible.
This was demonstrated when Will Ruddick, an American physicist, economist and former Peace Corps volunteer, introduced a complementary currency into a Kenyan slum called Bangladesh, near the coastal city of Mombasa. Will’s local development organization, Koru-Kenya, worked with over one hundred small business owners in Bangladesh, who agreed to give each other the equivalent of 400 shillings (about €3.5 or $4.60) in mutual credit in the form of business vouchers called Bangla-Pesa. Half of the vouchers would be available for spending on each others’ products and services, and half would be spent into the community on public projects such as waste collection and health services. Allocation decisions were democratic and transparent, and the new currency was backed entirely by the community’s own resources and insured by a system of group guarantors, not by the Kenyan government or a development agency.
The project was launched on May 11, 2013. The immediate effect was an increase in sales of 22%. That meant increasing incomes and purchasing power by 22%. These exchanges were of goods and services that without the additional currency would have been thrown away or gone to waste, not because they were unmarketable but because potential customers did not have the money to buy them. Introducing Bangla-Pesa worked to move the economy forward at full capacity, connecting the community to its own resources when the only things lacking were those slips of paper called “money.” A compelling video on the project is here.
But that plan was unexpectedly interrupted on May 29th, when Will and five other project participants were arrested by Kenyan police and thrown in jail. Besides Will, who is married to a Kenyan aid worker and is a new father, the others include local community business owners who are parents and grandparents, a youth activist, a volunteer mother, and the caretaker of seven orphan children.
The police at first accused the group of plotting a terrorist overthrow of the government, claiming that Bangla-Pesa was linked to the MRC, a terrorist secessionist group. When that link was easily disproven, the Central Bank of Kenya was called in and charges of forgery were formally placed. Will and his fellow suspects have been released for now on a bail of EUR 5,000 and await trial on July 17th. If convicted, they face seven years in a Kenyan prison.
Despite these perilous circumstances, Will remains optimistic. “The exciting thing,” he says, “is that these systems really do show a means of poverty reduction - and my hope is that after this case we’ll be allowed to spread them to slums across Kenya. There have been years of precedent for Complementary Currencies as a solution to poverty, and today there is no doubting it.”
Successful Precedents from Switzerland to Brazil
Complementary currencies are endorsed by many governments worldwide. The oldest and largest is the WIR system in Switzerland, an exchange system among 60,000 businesses – a full 20 percent of all Swiss businesses. This currency has been demonstrated to have a counter-cyclical effect, helping to stabilize the Swiss economy by providing additional liquidity and lending capacity when conventional credit for small businesses is scarce.
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