Accessibility Is Possible Through Empowerment

Rising from a building society in the 1980’s, Equity Bank became the first bank in Kenya to hit the trillion-shilling valuation mark in Kenya. This was before Congo became part of the EAC, and the entry of Equity into Congo is expected to drive the valuation much higher. Equity also has the largest asset base in the country, and was named the fifth strongest banking brand in the world by Brand Finance with a 94% in the Brand Strength Index.

The meteoric rise of Equity can be attributed to one thing and one thing only: empowerment. From lowering the bar on who could open a bank account to its philanthropic activities such as Wings to Fly, Equity is a sign of hope that things could be better in future. It may have a few blights in its history such as the failure of M-Kesho, a collaboration between itself and Safaricom but there’s so much to write home about. Its strategy of banking the ‘poor’ in the society through the famous Mimi ni Member campaign also saw it earn praises from national leaders who encouraged citizens to borrow from banks and develop themselves instead of expecting handouts from politicians, a breeding ground for massive corruption in government as campaign financiers seek to recoup their investment made during the campaign trail. Of course, this was also enabled by the liberalization of the banking sector meaning that the competition determined who had the best product for Kenyans. Eventually all banks followed suit and today, the customer is spoilt for choice on which bank to deal with. 

After it became apparent that achieving the Big Four Agenda of affordable housing was not possible by building housing units, the Government formed the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Corporation to achieve this goal. The Corporation works by collaborating with banks who then avail affordable mortgages guaranteed by the Government. This means that borrowers have the freedom to build for themselves as the wish since there is capital from the banks and the lenders do not have to worry about the defaulting risk since the loans are guaranteed by the Government. The fact that the interest rates are kept in check by the CBK means there’s appetite to borrow and repay the mortgage since it will dent the borrowers credit history with the CRB. While it may not be popular in the country mainly due to lack of awareness on the part of the public, the method is sustainable since it takes into account one’s borrowing ability thus making mortgage available to everyone and not only a preserve of the handful ultra-rich individuals in the country. It also means there is growth in the construction sector in the country which has the ripple effect of creating employment opportunities for people in the country. 

In the last few years, calls to have PWDs get assistive devices for free have been increasing across the country mostly from the political class and a few DPOs. It’s a good idea but it has its disadvantage of being prone to abuse and its economically unsustainable, in addition to fanning the charity model of viewing disability which also encompasses doing/giving things for free. If it is to be encouraged, let it be encouraged at a small scale not where influential people boost their public standings by donating wheelchairs and smiling for the camera. Freebies are economically unsustainable since it means taxing the rest of the population more for the Government to afford paying for freebies to PWDs. In the long run it sets up a class war between the rest of the population and PWDs, just like the Gender rule has been a borne of contention as it is seen to favour women than men, especially in leadership. 

With the craze in the disability empowerment programme, more should be done to empower these initiatives so that more PWDs are economically capable of buying assistive devices for themselves. It is also beneficial to the disability organizations involved in availing these tools since there’s working capital from the borrowing and refunding of money to buy these tools. The method is workable since that’s what happens when PWDs want to import a vehicle or a wheelchair that is not available in the country. The Government should strengthen disability empowerment programmes more so in the corporate sector, so that they can impact more PWDs who will then be able to afford assistive devices with ease. It can also be done by offering financing by way of subsidies to assistive technology innovations for the technologies to be easily affordable to PWDs.

There is more pride among PWDs when they are facilitated to do things on their own rather than someone else paying the price for them. Like Abraham Lincoln said, “a dollar earned is better than a dollar found”. Help PWDs earn their dollar.