14 March 2018

Kenya: Mistrust Pushes Fishermen to Bank in Mattresses

People and banking may be old talk in Kenya today, but not among the fisher communities on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Tom Oginga, a fisherman at Kisegi Beach in Suba South, earns about Sh1,500 daily from fishing.

He has no bank account.


His bank, he told us, is sometimes under his mattress. Other times, he keeps the money in his pocket, churning it out from time to time, often without a budget or plan.

Mr Oginga, a veteran fisherman now in his 50s, is not bothered by the existence of mini microfinances and bank agents in the nearest trading centres. His first problem, it appears, is distance. His second, is credibility: Will these guys flee with my money? Or will they be around when I need them?

"I do not trust small community banks and their agents in our beaches. I feel my money is safe when I deposit it in a commonly-known bank," said Mr Oginga, as he massages his greying beard.

Many fishermen along the beaches of Lake Victoria said they once had their fingers burned when some small banks collapsed with their money. They did not state which banks.

"We have a nasty history about these community banks and their agents. We do not trust them because it reaches a time when they disappear with our money," the old man added.


Despite the growing population of fishermen and residents depending on Lake Victoria for their livelihoods, financial institutions have not fully exploited this market.

Banks have had their agents in trading centres along Lake Victoria such as Nyandiwa, Magunga and Sindo in Homa Bay County and Misori, Lwanda Kotieno, Usenge and Uhanya in Siaya County. But folks in the interior say travelling 20 kilometres or more to visit a bank is just too much for them.

Fishermen along the beaches of the lake who spoke to the Nation said there is need for financial institutions to take advantage of the growing economy of the fishing industry.

Take for instance Nyandiwa trading centre in Suba South, Homa Bay County, where about 340,000 members of the fishing community live and depend on the lake but there is no bank in the area.

Fishermen at the trading centre have asked financial institutions to set up their branches in the region to cushion them against financial wastage resulting from misuse of their hard-earned money.


William Onditi and John Abuya, officials of beach units in Suba South, said the fishermen have no banks that can offer them a platform to save their money.

"Fishermen do not trust regional micro-finances cropping up along the beaches. They need banks that can guarantee the safety of their money," said Mr Onditi.

Mr Onditi said two bank agents in Nyandiwa trading centre had robbed fishermen of Sh2 million last year, making fishermen to shun them.

"Two agents of well-known banks swindled fishermen of their life savings last year. We cannot trust agents anymore because we cannot verify their authenticity," said Mr Onditi.

The nearest bank serving fishermen of Suba South is in Sori Town, Migori County, which is about 70km away and another one in Mbita Town, Suba North.

Every morning, some fishermen in their tens take boda bodas to nearby towns to deposit their money. But they complain that they spend a lot of money on transport and will still spend more to withdraw their money.

The fishermen have blamed lack of banking institutions in the region to the poor infrastructure and communication network.


Since independence, no road has been tarmacked in Suba South Constituency, apart from the ongoing road works at Sindo trading centre - the Lake Victoria ring road is being tarmacked by the national government in partnership with the World Bank.

Fishermen also complain that they spend a lot of time travelling to Sori Town to deposit or withdraw cash.

"We spend up to four hours travelling between the two towns due to the bad state of the road," said Mr Kepher Abuya, the secretary for Nyandiwa Beach Unit Management.

A ride from Nyandiwa and Magunga trading centres is not easy because of few public transport vehicles and poor roads.

So why are these people lamenting in an era of digital banking? It turns out there is a low level of interest and trust in their viability. They claim banks have not reached the shores to educate locals on registering their accounts on their mobile phones.

But many still do not trust this method due to previous experiences with some banking agents.

The poor mobile network is also a major challenge - the hilly terrain of Suba makes mobile telephone networks unreliable.

The officials said most fishermen opt to keeping their earnings at home.


A frame survey carried out by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) in all beaches around Lake Victoria in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 2016 revealed that Kenya leads with the number of bars and brothels, along the shores. But no banks.

The survey which was funded by Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme 2 (LVEMP 2) is done biannually in all beaches surrounding Lake Victoria in East Africa to find out the state of social amenities along the beaches.

In the survey, there was 384 bars and brothels around the 281 beaches around the lake in the country.

Busia had 38 bars and 20 beaches, Siaya had 131 and 71 beaches, Kisumu had 30 bars and 35 beaches, Homa Bay had 149 bars and 134 beaches and Migori had 36 bars and 28 beaches.


Lake Victoria Beach Management Unit Chairperson Tom Guda has attributed the high number of bars and brothels to lack of financial discipline amongst fishermen in the beaches.

"Our fishermen have nobody to talk to them about the importance of saving money for their future. They instead waste it in merry making," said Mr Guda.

Lake Victoria beach officials have pushed for the establishment of banks in islands such as Remba, Ringiti, Kiwa, Mfangano and Rusinga.

They are currently working on an advocacy programme along the beaches to equip fishermen with financial skills.

"We have begun an initiative to educate fishermen on the importance of banking and saving as a means of improving their economic welfare," said Mr Guda.

He noted that the unsafe custody of money has led to increased crime.

"Some criminals are now targeting fishermen and business operators who keep their money under their mattresses in their houses. We need banks established closer to us to enable us keep our money under safe custody," said Mr Guda.


Access to banking services along the beaches can help fishermen to better manage their financial decisions, he argues. Yet fishermen may not use the services if they do not trust the institutions, if service quality is poor, or if the services disrupt local financial relationships.

Leaders in the region have not been keen on the economic situation of the fishing community.

Suba South MP John Mbadi, who is also the Minority Leader in the National Assembly, said the region will be unlocked following massive infrastructural development being undertaken by the World Bank, national government and other development agencies.

"The World Bank and the National Government are currently tarmacking the Lake Victoria ring road which is going to pass through major beaches of the lake. I believe it is going to open the region to political growth and showcase its investment opportunities," said Mr Mbadi.

Lack of banking facilities has made it difficult for fishermen to save up large sums, cope with unexpected emergencies, or obtain credit for businesses.

According to Dr Alphonce Odondo, a lecturer of business and commerce at Tom Mboya University College, microfinances along Lake Victoria should be trained on financial management to restore fishermen's trust and faith in them. "The small community banks need to be equipped with financial management skills to enable fishermen trust their operations," he said.


Dr Odondo added that banks have not opened branches along the beaches because of the high per capita output required to set them up. "It costs a lot of money for a financial institution to set up a branch in a given location. It must for instance consider the staff to operate the new branch and other logistics, which can be costly," he added.

In western Kenya, large bank branches are located primarily in major towns, often leaving rural villages with few options.

While much attention has recently been paid to various strategies to expand access, comparatively little attention has been paid to the quality of financial services in rural areas.

According to a report by Deloitte titled The Kenya Economic Outlook 2017: Joining the dots, as at 30 March 2017, there were 42 commercial banks, 13 microfinance institutions and one mortgage finance company regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya, which sets prudential regulations including minimum liquidity rations and cash serve rations.

The report further stated that the CBK had announced that it was processing requests for licensing by two new banks, ending a moratorium it put in place on licensing of new commercial banks.


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