Imagine if you could slot your ATM card in a machine and get food instead of money. Especially on those days when you are so hungry you think you could eat an elephant.
On an oppressively hot afternoon in Moroto town, North Eastern Uganda, am walking on the main street in search of a place to eat when I come across a long queue of people by an MTN phone booth.
A few things run through my mind; in the era of mobile phones that cost as little as 20. 000 Uganda Shillings, why would so many people be lining up to make a phone call? Perhaps the phone hadn’t been functioning and it has just been serviced so everyone must make the calls that had been pending?
So I momentarily forget about my hunger, and decide I must find out what the queue is about. Almost all levels of the population are lining up; young men, men, women, elderly women.
While am still looking around for someone who can tell me what is going on in English, a fight ensues between two elderly women. Turns out, one was trying to steal the other’s slot in the queue. It is a fight against hunger. It is a fight for food. It is also a fight to get your six weeks energy’s worth.
The World Food Program has something called Food-for-Work in Karamoja region. Instead of continually contributing to the dependency syndrome by doling out free food aid, the UN agency decided that people should work for the food they get. The work they do is opening up land and planting sorghum, maize, millet etc. The plus is that in a way, you ensure your own food security. The minus is that you get paid 34.000 Shillings for six weeks of labour.
The interesting part is that the money comes out of a phone booth. An MTN phone booth to be precise. Between WFP and MTN, ‘ATM’ cards were made for every worker and pin codes provided. On pay day, the WFP staff doesn’t have to carry sacks of posho or bags of money. All they have to do is watch and keep the queue in order as each worker slots in their card and walks away 34.000UShs richer. Who would have thought I would be educated about such an interesting thing over 300km away from Kampala? See, we tend to think all the interesting tech stuff happens here.
When my curiosity had been satiated, I remembered I was hungry. I thought, as I walked away; instead of queuing in the sun only to reach the top of the queue and the machine spews out shilling bills, what if it just gave you the kilos of maize flour worth your labour? For a hungry person, such thoughts are acceptable I guess.Hits:598