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“Refugee Millionaire”: In Kenya, Refugees Are Becoming Entrepreneurs

From his makeshift throne – a stack of filled boxes of powdered milk sachets – Mesfin Getahun replied in a soft voice to questions of an employee, carefully regulating the bustling activity of the warehouse to the cave-like wonderland . Soon the bags of grain piled up to the ceiling, the mountains of boxes of cookies and canned tomatoes will go fill the shelves of grocery stores in Kakuma camp, bringing a little flavor to the too bitter life of some 192,000 refugees crowded in the middle of this forsaken region of Kenya .

Through its wholesale, the Ethiopian 41 years in the athletic build that turn an entire network of stores located around the camp, providing in local and international products imported by Kenyan intermediaries. For in this aggregate of corrugated iron, canvas tent and wooden pieces what Kakuma, few people still depend entirely on rations from the World Food Programme (WFP) and donations from international NGOs.

Refugee “millionaire”

Long, businesses have flourished, responding to a strong demand for goods and services and generating income for entrepreneurs. The arrival of the money transfer system M-Pesa by telephone, and, more recently, smart phones, have only accelerated the development of this economic microcosm. There are now just about everything in the camp alleys: restaurants, grocery stores, clothing shops, Internet cafes, pool halls, barber … And especially warehouse Mesfin wholesaler, its facade flanked by a huge sign reminding those who have forgotten that “Jesus is Lord.”

Arrived in Kakuma in 2001, this former soldier is experiencing a meteoric rise, despite his inexperience in business. First hired in a cafe, then it becomes a baker , then opened a retail business with his savings. Instinctively, it diversifies its product and encourages other marketers to do the same in order to stimulate the economic ecosystem of the camp. Business is good.

One is nicknamed “millionaire” is now dedicated to the wholesale and grants loans to refugees wishing him follow the steps. Through this informal microfinance system, the number of born shops patronage multiplies. And his bank account continues to swell. It currently generates up to 10,000 dollars in sales a day. “This is a gift from God,” he assures t to justify its success.


Twenty nationalities

Located near the border with South Sudan , Kakuma is home to about a third of the 600 000 refugees hosted by Kenya, others have found refuge in the Dadaab camp (340,000 residents) or in cities . Somalis, Ethiopians, Burundians and Congolese … About twenty nationalities rub it now.

It opened in 1992 occurred during a prosperous period for the Office of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR), whose coffers were generously replenished by the international community. “In the 1990s and until 2008, UNHCR has been complicit in establishing these camps in very remote and dangerous parts of the country, managing assistance programs without issue, and thus keeping the refugees living in the hope that they eventually return home them, “James Milner analysis, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Then the funding has dried up, and humanitarian crises have intensified (60 million IDPs in the world for an exile of twenty years on average) forcing UNHCR to review its programs. In a cost-cutting effort, the agency in 2008 launched its ” policy on alternatives to camps,”which focuses on the prospects for the “autonomy” of refugees. And economic impact of the camps to host populations.

In finishing with addiction

Recently, the antenna of the UNHCR in Kakuma and its partners are trying to apply this policy with innovative programs wanting. For the first time, it is believed to grow fruits and vegetables in the same camp, or grind the grain locally instead of importing flour by convoys. An employee of UNHCR proudly describes a project pilot providing loans to companies start to “move away from a mentality of dependence .”

Mesfin Getahun is now cited by the UN agency, who wishes to enhance the entrepreneurial potential of refugees. For one who has built his empire in spite of the humanitarian system, this kind of details soon be history. His candidacy for the “relocation” abroad has been selected among thousands of others. The refugee millionaire is about to take a new departure with his wife and children. Location: Washington, DC.

– The


Written by How Africa

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