The rainy season is the most dangerous time, the women of the Nkilepu business group told me. I didn’t understand. The rainy season is what everyone hopes for. It brings accessible fresh water; the grasses start to grow and the cows and goats are once again healthy and strong. The females become pregnant and have more cows and goats, increasing the wealth of every family.
“It is because of the warriors and the shifta,” they told me. “Our village is remote – over five hours walk to Laisamis village where we buy the stock for our business. In the rainy season the bandits can survive for long periods of time when there is water in the bush. For us, it is very dangerous. They attack us, stealing our stock and worse.”
I turned to Meshack, BOMA’s field officer, and remarked that we keep hearing this over and over. The greatest challenge for many of our business groups is access to a larger town where they can buy wholesale goods for their business. When we visit businesses that have easier access, either through proximity, better security or the availability of lorries that can provide rides, then we see much larger and varied stock. But that has not stopped the business groups in the village of Ndikir. Their savings association is just a year old but they have more than 74,600 shillings in savings, plus loans of 12,000 out to members.
“Do you ever loan money to your husbands?” I asked the women.
“No,” Ngusulia Arabolia told me, “We don’t allow them. They never pay us back. We only loan money to women like us who want to educate their children. We all have respect for each other because we all want to educate our children. This is money they are grateful for and we know they will pay us back.”
These women were so committed to education that it had led them to challenge the male elders in their village. Ngusulia’s face was animated as she told me about a recent incident when the elders of the village took five children out of the local primary school.
“They just removed them from school because the elders know that if the children are educated, they will not follow them.”
So Ngusulia and her business partners made the dangerous walk to Laisamis village and reported the elders to the district education officer. The five elders were put in jail for their efforts.
One of the questions that we often ask ourselves is, “What does it look like to be an economically empowered woman in Northern Kenya?” Sitting in that dark, hot hut, I realized that these women were the face of empowerment. They are committed and determined to educate their children. They take great risks to ensure their economic independence from their husbands. And they are becoming important role models for their daughters.