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Informal settlements in Nairobi might also benefit from a UBI trial (dpa photo by Miro images). Informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, November 24, 2016 (dpa photo by Miro May via AP images).

The Promise of Kenya’s Experiment With Universal Basic Income

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017

A village in Kenya is the only one in Africa known to be receiving a monthly universal basic income, or UBI, stipend. The experiment is intended to encourage countries with high poverty levels to rethink their approach to social welfare, but not everyone is convinced the UBI trial will yield the answers researchers seek.

Makanga is a village like many others in rural Kenya. Farmsteads with walls made of clay and roofs of corrugated iron sit on plots separated by bush. Dusty footpaths cross fields that bear signs of the latest drought to hit East Africa—the effects of which are especially dire in a region cut off from the electricity and water grids. From time to time, one comes across a skinny cow.

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Until recently, the village’s inhabitants were themselves quite typical of the region, struggling to make ends meet by farming. Phoebe Abagi still tended to her maize field each day, despite suffering from advancing arthritis at 84 years old. With no pension and no safety net, she had no respite from daily labor. ...

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