Follow up: Technology in disrupting inequalities among refugees in Kenya

In keeping with planned activities for the second half of 2020, Techfugees Kenya organised and held a meetup on the 27th of August in which we invited the participation of actors working directly with displaced and refugee communities. This was a follow up to the discussion that began in June during the Kenya chapter relaunch virtual event, held on the 18th of June. A recap of this event can be found here, and a recording of the session as well. The theme for the meetup in August was centred around the role of technology in disrupting existing inequalities among refugees and displaced people in Kenya. 

The aim was to have a refugee-led conversation on interventions that have been deployed in response to needs in health, education, employment, social inclusion and access to information. This would then set the stage for a discussion on the gaps that exist in these areas and recommendations on how technology can solve them. In this session, we focused on hearing from the perspective of actors who work with refugees and displaced persons as well as displaced persons themselves, who participated as panelists.

The meetup was live streamed on Facebook as compared to previous events which were held via either Zoom or Google Meet. The motivation to stream on Facebook was so that we were able to invite viewership from far and wide. To date, the recording of the event has been watched 400 times and reached more than 1,500 people.

Our distinguished panelists for the meetup included; Innocent Tshilombo, Founder and Managing Director of Kakuma Ventures based in Kakuma Refugee Camp; Brizan Were, Co-Founder of Startup Lions based in Lodwar; Aisha Hamed, Program Coordinator at Resilience Action International based in Kakuma, Conzana Mangiti, Operations Manager at Kakuma Ventures; Ebengo Honore, CEO of African Initiative for Human Development based in Kakuma; and Bol Bona, Program Coordinator at World Hope of Vulnerable based in Kakuma.

The meetup started off with Philomena, chapter co-lead giving welcoming remarks, along with Mary Munyoki, other chapter co-lead. Philomena gave an overview of the meetup by placing the theme in context of the previous meetup held in June which focused on the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened existing inequalities experienced by refugees and displaced people. She emphasized the important role that technology plays in our day to day lives including communication, accessing work and entrepreneurship opportunities, education as well as social services. Following this introduction, Mary took over to moderate the panel discussion questions, each of which would be responded to by one or two panelists.

In response to the first question concerning inequalities which have been exacerbated among refugees during the Covid-19 pandemic, Conzana of Kakuma Ventures (pictured below) gave valuable insights as to the situation on the ground. Notably, she mentioned that since learning was suspended following the government directive to close schools, young people in the camp could be seen as idle. Had there been access to the Internet through Internet cafes and hotspots, these young people would have been way more engaged in online learning. 

Up next was Brizan from Startup Lions. His most notable contribution was that there is an important role to be played in empowering refugees and displaced persons with skills and competencies which will allow them to reach the economic well-being of the communities in which they reside. The result of such interventions promotes their security and increases the bonding between refugees and host community members, ultimately leading to economic and social prosperity of both groups of people.

Innocent of Kakuma Ventures emphasised that the role of government and private sector is really pivotal to the development and success of initiatives aimed at empowering refugees and displaced people. He highlighted that the introduction of tertiary education at Kakuma refugee camp was a catalyst that spurred a lot of entrepreneurial activity within the camp as well as setting up of numerous refugee led organisations. That being said, there is still great room for government and private sector actors to make investments in the camps to unlock the potential that youths residing in those areas have.

Picking up from Innocent’s presentation, Ebengo Honore highlighted programs which run under his organisation, African Initiative for Human Development which include training on digital entrepreneurship, social media marketing and coding. The aim of these programmes is to empower refugees to apply their skills to allow them to earn an income. Honore pointed out that a major challenge in getting such initiatives off the ground is that some refugees lack legal identity, meaning that they are not able to formally register their organisations. He implored organisations such as Techfugees to be the voice of displaced persons and drive conversations around the adoption of more progressive refugee policies which will in turn ease the process of doing business for displaced persons and refugees. 

Bol highlighted the challenge of access to quality education that is faced by members of the community residing in and around Kenyan refugee camps. This is an issue that has been studied for a number of years, and the key cause for this is that qualified teachers shy away from postings in remote and marginalised areas because these are hardship areas. Another challenge he highlighted was in terms of distribution of food rations. Food distribution centres are highly congested, and priority is given to families with children, leaving single individuals to endure long waiting periods to receive food rations. Bol reckons that a technological intervention to the food distribution process would be highly beneficial to all refugees, and this can be scaled to other refugee camps in the region.

The August meetup brought on board such rich experiences and insights from panelists who live and make a living in and around Kakuma Refugee Camp. This has also been a huge milestone for us at Techfugees Kenya, having a refugee led conversation on how technology can transform the lives of refugees. It was clear that whilst numerous interventions exist in the camps and host communities, there is still a lot of room for organisations such as ours to come in and fill gaps through the use of technology.

We are excited to continue carrying out our mandate in meeting real needs of displaced persons through technology!

Article written by Philomena Mwangi, co-lead Techfugees Kenya.

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