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East Africa

Young men practising plumbing in Don Bosco vocational training centre. PHOTO | POOL

Eraste Mwaka, 43, left his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) full of hope that he’d find a lasting, peaceful and better life in Nairobi, but reality tasted different when he set foot in Kenya.

By the time he decided to part ways with his old life in eastern DRC, where he had a stable, well-paying job with a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), he had had it all. The rebels in the region had made it their mission to make sure he had no peace in life, only because he refused to join them.

“They really terrorised me, consistently stealing from me the NGO’s property, which I had to pay for. They could even come to my house at night while I’m away, steal my things, rape my wife! I felt that was too much and finally decided to leave,” Mwaka recalls.


To him, Kenya was an ideal destination not only because it was far from the home that had become hell, but also because he believed it to be a great and welcoming country for refugees.

Like most first-time visitors to Kenya, he had been persuaded beyond doubt that Kenya is a safe and pleasant place to be in, thanks to the widely publicised song ‘Jambo Kenya,’ which culminates to the world-renowned phrase “Nchi yetu, hakuna matata”, Kiswahili for “there’s no trouble in our country.”

His little grasp of the Swahili language led him to believe that a beautiful life awaited him and his family in Kenya. In 2014, he sold his property, liquidated his accounts, bought US dollars and set out with his wife and three children to Nairobi.


An old man practising plumbing in Don Bosco vocational training centre. PHOTO | POOL

But the beautiful life he had envisioned was not to be. At first, all was well because he had the money he brought with him. But it would soon run out forcing him to find a job to fend for his family, and there he met his first trouble in Kenya – getting an identification.

After waiting for over three months, he finally got an alien identification card, but as he would soon realise, the card was nearly worthless if not for giving him legal status in the country.

He couldn’t get registered on any mobile network or mobile money platform, open a bank account or access any regulated credit or savings service provider with the alien ID alone. And without any of these, it was not only impossible to get a job but also difficult to self-employ.

“In DRC, I had worked with four NGOs, and I was being paid well, averagely $1,000 every month. But here, I couldn’t find a matching job. I could only find menial jobs which were too hard for me, I could barely survive,” he recounts.

Circumstances seemed to have sealed his fate and for over six years, Mr Mwaka and his family lived in abject poverty in Nairobi.

At some point, he says, they had to live in a school, sometimes in churches and some days they would beg caretakers to stay a night in vacant houses. Most days, they survived on handouts from charities in the city. All because he was cut off from the financial system.

Today, he runs a phone repair shop in Nairobi’s suburb, thanks to help from two charities – HIAS, which paid for his training in a phone repair course, and GiveDirectly, which gave him a Ksh100,000 ($772) unconditional grant which he used to start the business.

To get the grant, GiveDirectly, a cash transfer charity working with vulnerable communities, helped him set up a bank account, enabling him access to a safe place to keep his money, but even that still doesn’t give him access to credit.

Mobile money

And in a country where many transactions are done through mobile money, he has to manage without an account. In an urban centre no less, it is harder to survive without access to a mobile money account or a bank account.

Like most urban refugees in Nairobi, Mr Mwaka only owns a SIM card and a mobile money account by proxy, the risks of which are not lost on him. Just recently, he lost Ksh12,000 ($92) because he misplaced the SIM card and his proxy couldn’t provide their national ID card for replacement.

This challenge is not unique to him. Most refugees in Nairobi today are unable to fully integrate into the society because they lack access to crucial financial services, which seemingly results from increased rigidity of the regulations governing the financial services sector.

For instance, Farhiyo Mohamed Elmi, 42, who fled her home in Mogadishu, Somalia in 2007 due to the civil war, found a home in Nairobi and was able to get a mobile money account using her alien ID card, but laws have since changed and even her own daughter now can’t.

“Back then I was able to register a line, but my friends who have tried lately are told they can’t be registered using the alien ID card,” she told The EastAfrican.

Such is also the plight of Hakizimana* (not his real name), a Rwandan who fled the country in 2006 due to persecution. He was able to register a phone number back in the days, but his wife and children who joined him later have not been able to, forcing them to using proxies, like many other refugees.

But even Hakizimana still lacks access to crucial financial services like credit. To make ends meet, he makes sculptors and sells them to retailers who sell to tourists in Nairobi, but he wishes he could get more from his craft.

Read: Refugees, locals to mix as Kenya closes camps

“If I could just access a loan to open up my own shop and be able to sell directly to clients, I could make so much more. I don’t make as much here because of the middlemen,” he says.

Both Farhiyo and Hakizimana were also beneficiaries of the GiveDirectly grant to urban refugees, which they both used to start or build the small businesses they rely on today, and was also the only reason they own bank accounts today.

Not all refugees are lucky to land such donations or charities which can help them set up even a bank account.

Many urban refugees in Nairobi rely on proxies to be able to access any semblance of a financial service, and most are completely cut off from the conventional banking services.

“They don’t have access to financial services and one of the biggest reasons for that is their lack of proper documentation and perceptions in the community,” argues Teddy Kinyoro, a senior programmes manager at GiveDirectly in Nairobi.

For urban refugees, the financial exclusion is nearly as bad as a lack of identity altogether. “The challenges refugees face in urban areas are very unique compared to rural set-ups,” argues Mr Kinyoro.

“Refugees don’t have access to land. The only thing they have access to is a small space they can set up a business, but even setting up a business requires money, and this is what they can’t get.”

According to Mr Kinyoro, all of the over 800 refugees who benefitted from their urban refugee programme about two years ago had no bank accounts.

Read: No funds to support DRC refugees in Tanzania

They were only able to get the accounts through the charity’s intervention, since they have a Memorandum of Understanding with one of the commercial banks in the country, which waived the requirement for some documents.

To get a bank account from most banks in Kenya, refugees are required to have a PIN Certificate from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), a Refugee Card, and sometimes a recognition letter from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or even a work permit, all of which they cannot immediately access, and most take years before they can get any of them.

“Very few refugees have a KRA PIN, for instance. To get it, a refugee must have a Refugee Card, it’s non-negotiable,” said Mr Kinyoro, adding that based on their research, only about 40 percent of refugees have a valid refugee card.

This essentially means that as a registered asylum seeker in Kenya, there is no way you can open a bank account to enable you transfer assets or receive money from abroad. Even for those granted refugee status, it is still a nightmare.


Congolese refugee Grace Kashama (L) learns tailoring under the guidance of a staff member of People for Peace and Defense of Rights (PPRD), a refugee-led NGO, during a tailoring and fashion training class in Kampala, Uganda on June 11, 2024. PHOTO | XINHUA

“It is possible to open a bank account as a refugee but it’s extremely difficult,” argued Mr Kinyoro.

Muthoki Mumo, sub-Saharan Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told The EastAfrican that even with all the necessary documents, exiled journalists in Kenya still find it hard to access financial services.

“Not only is earning an income a problem, but accessing the basic financial services that many of us Kenyans take for granted,” Ms Mumo said.

CPJ helps relocate journalists facing an imminent threat in their countries due to their journalistic work.

Ms Mumo told The EastAfrican that Kenya has proven nearly uninhabitable for exiled journalists due to the difficulties in accessing financial services, and many of them eventually opt to settle down elsewhere.

Why is it so hard for refugees and asylum seekers to access financial services in Kenya?

According to Mr Kinyoro, the problem is rooted in the difficulty accessing the required documentation, especially the alien ID card, which mainly stems from administrative challenges due to the huge backlog of asylum seekers in the country at any given time.

Refugee status

Ms Mumo adds: “There’s the issue of access to information; maybe people coming here do not immediately have access to the information they need to navigate the system. Secondly, even when things are working perfectly, there’s a bureaucracy to deal with, but things never work perfectly because it’s a system that is strained with many people seeking to get services.”

Indeed, data from the UNHCR shows Kenya is currently host to about 538,899 refugees and 152,942 asylum seekers – who are yet to be granted refugee status in the country as of December last year.

The number of refugees rose seven percent since end of 2022, but the number of asylum seekers more than doubled from 69,011 in 2022, reflecting a slow processing of asylum seekers and granting of refugee status.

Compared to neighbouring Uganda, Kenya appears be processing asylum seekers much slower despite having fewer refugees compared to Kampala.

Last year, for example, Kenya granted refugee status to only 34,426 people, while Uganda welcomed 113,975 new refugees to its borders, with only 37,657 asylum seekers left pending at the end of the year.

Currently, Uganda hosts over 1.5 million refugees, more than triple the number in Kenya, and experts believe this could be linked to the fact that refugees find it more habitable than Kenya, especially in terms of financial inclusion.

“In some ways, Uganda is a much friendlier place to be as a refugee compared to Kenya,” argues Ms Mumo.

“Overall, we have a very different situation in Uganda with the national refugee policy and the open-door policy, whereby refugees are allowed to move freely and access all the different types of services like nationals,” said Matilda Jerneck, cash-based interventions coordinator at UNHCR Uganda.

One of the stark differences with Kenya is that in Uganda, the refugee card alone or even the family attestation document – the equivalent of the proof of registration in Kenya – is enough to open a bank or a mobile money account.

It is also easier and faster to get the necessary refugee documentation in Uganda, and refugees are allowed to even own assets such as motor vehicles or land, unlike in Kenya.

According to Ms Jerneck, this hasn’t always been the case in Uganda.

According to her, Uganda succeeded because it considered refugees as a ‘specific interest group’ in its national financial inclusion policy and endeavoured to ensure inter-operability between different regulators, banks and mobile network operators to ensure the refugee documentations can be easily verified.

Both Mr Kinyoro and Ms Mumo contend that this one of the major challenges in Kenya.

Banks and mobile network operators cannot easily verify these documents and therefore opt not to take them in the registration process.
The Central Bank of Kenya, which is the financial sector regulator in Kenya, acknowledged receipt of our questions on their work plan to help boost financial inclusion for refugees in the country, but did not respond by the time of going to press.

However, the government this month received a $50 million grant from the World Bank to help with its refugee policy reforms aimed at improving their participation in the labour market and their access to basic social and financial services.

GiveDirectly’s research reveals that the urban refugees that benefited from their programme and gained access to banks accounts were able to save more and about 81 percent realised an increase in income levels.

Yet, gaining access to these services is the first step. Ms Jerneck and Mr Kinyoro contend that there needs also to be an attitude change towards refugees; to consider them just as risky as locals so lenders can loan them just as easily as they would citizens. By Vincent Owino, The East African

Civilians have fled from SInga and Sennar state as RSF forces have moved in [Getty]

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have taken a key town that edges them closer to Port Sudan, where the Sudanese army and UN are based. Paramilitary forces battling Sudan's regular army for more than a year said on Saturday they had taken a key state capital in the southeast, prompting thousands to flee, witnesses said.

"We have liberated the 17th Infantry Division from Singa," the capital of Sennar state, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) announced on X.

Residents confirmed to AFP: "The RSF have deployed in the streets of Singa", and witnesses reported aircraft from the regular army flying overhead and anti-aircraft fire.

Earlier Saturday, other witnesses said there was fighting in the streets and "rising panic among residents seeking to flee".

Sudan has been gripped by war since April 2023, when fighting erupted between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

The conflict in the country of 48 million has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and triggered one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The latest RSF breakthrough means the paramilitaries are tightening the noose around Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where the army, government and UN agencies are now based.

The RSF controls most of the capital Khartoum, Al-Jazira state in the centre of the country, the vast western region of Darfur and much of Kordofan to the south.

Sennar state is already home to more than one million displaced Sudanese. It connects central Sudan to the army-controlled southeast.

Posts on social media showed thousands of people fleeing in vehicles and on foot, and witnesses told AFP "thousands of people have taken refuge on the east bank of the Blue Nile" river east of Singa.

RSF forces are also besieging the town of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state.

On Thursday, a report cited by the United Nations said nearly 26 million people in war-torn Sudan are facing high levels of "acute food insecurity".

The RSF have been implicated in acts of ethnic cleansing against the country's non-Arab population, killing thousands in the western region of Darfur last year. MENA

Keeping distressed firms is becoming difficult because of massive debts that cannot be repaid within the ‘administration period. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Kenya’s financially distressed companies are grappling to secure a lifeline through administration, owing to their huge debts and late implementation of recovery measures, which have ended up pushing them into liquidation.

An administration process involves appointing an administrator to run a distressed firm for one year, with a possibility of extension by the court or sold as a going concern to enhance value for the benefit of its creditors.

Placing a firm under administration helps to regain control when it has serious cash flow problems, is insolvent, and facing serious threats from creditors. This helps to rescue the company, making it achieve better results for creditors or control, and then sell off its property. 

Data by the Office of the Official Receiver, Kenya shows petitions for company liquidations are on the rise and have hit 30 since July 2023, highlighting the extent of financial distress facing businesses due to economic downturn and governance-related issues.

Read: Kenya facing a serious liquidity crisis, treasury says

Administrators say keeping distressed companies is becoming difficult because of massive debts that cannot be repaid within the ‘administration period’ of up to 18 months, citing the collapsed retail chain Nakumatt that went under with an estimated Ksh38 billion ($292.6 million) worth of claims.

Liquidation (or winding up) is the process by which a company's existence is terminated by selling its assets to pay off its debts. Any monies remaining after all debts, expenses, and costs have been paid off are distributed amongst the company's shareholders.

Since the introduction of the administration process in 2015, Nakumatt Holdings Ltd, ARM Cement Plc and Deacons Plc were the first to go through the process, with hopes that their recovery would set a positive trend for other companies likely to undergo the same process.
But these companies failed to survive the administration process paving the way for their liquidation.

“These companies are heavily indebted and they can’t come out of that big hole so what we have been basically doing is to try to sell those assets to somebody who can buy them and put them to better use because you find that by the time the company has gone that route, it can take them long to recover. 

I give an example of Nakumatt with Ksh38 billion ($292.6 million) debt, you can’t expect to recover that and no bank will give you more money to pay that,” says Peter Kahi, a partner at PKF Consulting (K) Ltd, a consultant firm in Nairobi.

“So, basically, we look at options. The first option is to see whether we can rescue that company, the second option is to try and maximise the returns for all creditors so that at least they get something, and if you can’t achieve that the third option is to sell the assets to pay for preferential creditors and other claims. Basically, most administrators have been going for option two or option three.”

The number of petitions for liquidation of companies presented to court has more than doubled in the last nine years, even after the new Insolvency Act (2015) introduced a provision for an ‘administration process’ to give a chance to financially troubled firms to put their houses in order and revert to the recovery path.

Petitions for liquidations by the court rose to 30 in the 2023/2024 fiscal year, from 13 petitions in the 2015/2016 fiscal year while the number of companies pushed into voluntary liquidation increased to nine from five in the same period. 

Some 22 companies were put under liquidation through direct appointment in the 2023/2024 financial year, according to the Office of the Official Receiver.

“I can say these companies don’t go into liquidation but somebody else comes to make better use of their assets because if you continue running that company, how many years will it take you to pay off ($292.6 million) debt because the administrators’ period is 12 months, with the first extension of maybe six months, that is what the law says,” Mr Kahi says.

Ken Gichinga, a Chief Economist at Mentoria Economics says recovery of companies under administration requires a combination of administration and managerial expertise, to be able deal with problems related to the weak macroeconomic environment and the ‘trust deficit’ reputation crisis occasioned by the “receivership” tag.

Read: Cross-listed firms hard-hit by drop in trade volumes

“Companies in receivership have to fight two battles which are a weak economic environment and the trust deficit battle associated with the high risk profile of companies in receivership. So you will find that the appointed administrators of these companies (in administration) end up fighting two battles instead of one battle and that is the reason it has been hard to revive these companies,” says Mr Gichinga.

“From the word ‘administrator, the administrators’ main concern is to keep the companies in administration as a going concern, but what these companies really need is almost a double level of management trend, to be able to navigate this weak macroeconomic environment and to win the confidence of the customers. What we need is administrators working together with management gurus to revive these companies.”

Administrators say that normally they are called upon when companies are in the intensive care unit with nothing to salvage as most assets have been stripped by the directors.

These companies are going through a crisis; they cannot meet their debt obligations, salaries are in arrears, auctioneers are calling at the doors, the tax man is calling and critical supplies like electricity have been disconnected.

“There are three objectives of any administration. Reviving a company is the first and depends to a large extent on the state of the company at the point of the intervention,” George Weru, a business recovery partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said in an earlier interview.

“If the intervention is too late when the distress is very significant this is not practical. The administrator proceeds to the next objective which is to sell the business as a going concern. This ensures continuity of the business and saves jobs which to me is still a success.”

Under the Insolvency law, a company is deemed unable to pay its debts if it fails to pay a debt of Sh100, 000 or more after 21 days of a written demand being served upon it.

According Maina & Onsare Partners Advocates LLP, the process of administration is intended to offer breathing space for insolvent companies while availing better returns and packages for creditors which are not ordinarily available in liquidation.

“It also gives companies going through financial turmoil an opportunity to put their acts together. This allows them to continue operating instead of the earlier practice of abruptly killing them as was the case in the previous statutes (now repealed),” the law firm says on its website.

“It is an alternative rescue process which leads to a stay of past and future legal proceedings as envisaged by Section 560 & 561 of the Insolvency Act hence making it cheaper for the company.”

Up until 2015, a company in financial distress was met often with the liquidation culture triggered voluntarily or by a creditor or subject to the court’s supervision.

A company that was unable to pay its debts but did not want to ascribe to the liquidation culture had the option of either compromising with its creditors and/or undergoing reconstruction through amalgamation or merger with another company and the liabilities duly transferred. By JAMES ANYANZWA, The East African

HE Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulaziz bin Saleh Al Khulaifi met Saturday with HE State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Federal Republic of Somalia Ali Mohamed Omar who is on a visit to the country. 

The meeting discussed cooperative relationship between the two countries and ways to enhance them, in addition to the latest developments in Somalia and a range of topics of mutual interest.

HE Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated, during the meeting, the State of Qatar's support for the efforts aimed at strengthening security and stability in Somalia and achieving development and prosperity for the fraternal people of Somalia. Distributed by APO Group 

Haiti has lived through one crisis after another. But the current prolonged crisis in Haiti has brought insecurity and violence, and has contributed to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Haitians. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there has been a 60 percent increase of internally displaced people within the country since March. These people have been displaced by spiraling gang violence, the collapse of the government, and the resulting economic crisis

“The figures we see today are a direct consequence of years of spiraling violence—that reached a new high in February—and its catastrophic humanitarian impact,” Philippe Branchat, the head of the IOM in Haiti, wrote in a press release reporting the increase. “The unending crisis in Haiti is pushing more and more people to flee their homes and leave everything behind. This is not something they do lightly. What’s more, for many of them, this is not the first time.”

In the past, migration out of Haiti has been the primary escape valve for those who are internally displaced. But as the country has seen an increasingly deteriorating situation, this option has been largely cut off by the international community. Migration out of Haiti has been the primary escape valve for those who are internally displaced.

“It’s very very hard to leave Haiti right now,” Nicole Phillips, a lawyer with the Haitian-American Haitian Bridges organization, tells The Progressive. “There aren’t many international flights, and with a Haitian passport, there are very few places that will legally allow you to enter. People are trapped.” 

Haiti has experienced major economic problems, which, along with the rise of gangs taking over neighborhoods, has contributed to massive displacement. Many of those who do manage to flee the capital city find themselves without means to support their families. 

As Haitians struggle, the country’s government has taken steps to stabilize. Earlier this month, the country appointed a new interim prime minister, who took steps to establish a transitional council with the goal of organizing democratic elections.Interim Prime Minister Garry Conille, an academic who previously worked for UNICEF, takes over leadership from Ariel Henry, who resigned in April 2024. Henry had held the office following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, while delaying elections as Senate term limits expired creating a political vacuum.

But regaining the confidence and economic stability of residents will take time. 

“Haiti has gone through so much in the last couple years, even with the deployment of the police force and the talk of elections, improvements will be so slow,” Phillips says. “It will be a long time before the folks that have been displaced will be in a situation where they can return home or where they can find new homes.” 

As Haiti’s government moves to stabilize, Kenyan police officers have started arriving in the island nation to respond to rampant gang violence.  

On June 25, the first 400 of a planned 1,000 police officers flew to Haiti to begin establishing the international force that is meant to quell gang violence. The people of Haiti are welcoming the deployment with deep-seated wariness due to the recent history of other military deployments.  

The Associated Press reported last month that the deployment of Kenyan police forces was briefly delayed due to the lack of adequate infrastructure, including bases for police units were still under construction and the police units lacked critical resources, including vehicles.

Aprimary promoter of the deployment to Haiti, the Biden Administration anticipates that the force will eventually grow to 2,500 police officers from more than a dozen countries, including Jamaica, Canada, and the United Kingdom. 

The police deployment to Haiti is already being met by doubt, in part due the sordid history of the previous United Nations’ Peacekeeping force known as The United Nations

Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH. During the peacekeeping force’s nearly thirteen-year existence, soldiers were accused of numerous human rights violations, including massacres and introducing cholera to the island following the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.

“[MINUSTAH] casts an enormous shadow,” Phillips says. “[MINUSTAH left] a legacy of sexual exploitation, abuse, and not protecting the people they were supposed to protect.”

The threat of new human rights violations in Haiti by security forces is worsened by the agreement between Haiti and Kenya for the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSSM), which grants Kenyan personnel blanket immunity. 

“Here we go again in terms of immunity for human rights abuses,” Phillips says. “Which, sadly, we anticipate.” By , The Progressive Magazine

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