Baby Mary Kaingu has been laid to rest next to her father’s grave, fulfilling her mother’s wish.

The four-month-old baby died on May 7 at Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital.

Kaingu’s shrill cries of hunger forced her mother, Peninah Bahati, a Mombasa local, to boil stones to trick her that she was cooking, so that she and her seven siblings, could sleep in hope. They did not.

The family had spent four days without food.

The widow used to wash laundry locally. But such work is hard to come by now as people have restricted their interactions because of coronavirus.

Bahati has not benefitted from the Sh10 billion cash-transfer program the government announced in April, which will cushion vulnerable people like her.

Gone for good

A few of the bereaved attended the tiny emotional send-off at Tsangatsini village in Kaloleni, Kilifi.

The government banned traditional funeral services throughout Kenya, a restriction against gathering that it hopes to stem the spread of coronavirus.

A priest said a brief prayer to family members, who had worn masks and spaced at least a meter apart.

At 3:45 pm, pallbearers lowered Kaingu’s coffin inside a cold grave, next to her father’s, Kaingu Charo, who got killed by a criminal gang in 2019.

Charo’s death made Bahati the sole breadwinner for her big family. Life got tough, and days would pass without food.

However, Kaingu gave Bahati strength and reason to keep toiling. But now she is gone – for good.

The mother was incredibly close and in constant contact with her daughter, even when she breathed her last, both being side-by-side, hands clasped in prayer.

Doctors had wheeled Kaingu from a theatre. She was having bloody diarrhoea, fever, stomach and chest complications. She constantly cried.

‘Secret’ cash-transfer program

Bahati’s predicament brings to a sharp focus on how the government is cushioning its citizens against the economic impact of Covid-19 disease, which has shattered jobs.

Economist David Ndii says lifeline fund is a safety net for workers like Bahati, whose sectors are most affected by the pandemic.

“This is the government’s responsibility, just as it provides relief to drought and natural disaster victims. These people, particularly those in the urban informal sector, have nowhere to turn,” Ndii says in his open letter to President Uhuru, published by The Elephant on March 25.

The government is yet to offer such funds.

Kaingu gave Bahati strength and reason to keep toiling. But now she is gone – for good.

The government, through the national and county response teams, has resorted to food donations. The food, however, has not been reaching the intended groups, explaining why Bahati only got the commodity after journalists picked her story and ran it.

Besides food aid, the government banks on the existing cash-transfer program, which is shrouded in secrecy and mistrust. Many targets have ended up missing the funds.

“I know there have been challenges where some elderly people have not been accessing these funds,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said on April 7 during an interview with local radio stations.

“I have been engaging government officials involved to streamline the systems to ensure our elderly people in all parts of the country are able to access these funds so as to cushion them.”

The national treasury allocated an additional Sh10 billion to the program for supporting vulnerable groups during this pandemic period.

The list of beneficiaries increased by an addition 108,000, with each receiving Sh2,000 after every fortnight.

The previous selections of elderlies, who have long been in the program, was open and participatory, with the deep involvement of village heads and chiefs.

But the government has not been transparent on how it selected the 108,000 recipients, leaving out people like Bahati, who have adversely been affected by the impact of Covid-19 disease, and genuinely deserves help.

It is uncertain who selected, vetted and approved the 108,000 lists of people. Lack of transparency and oversight by local groups has resulted in mistrust in the cash transfer program.

While the 108,000 figure is just a fraction of the country’s over 50 million population, a strict vetting would have expunged the undeserving people from the list. There are claims that the working-class has been benefitting at the expense of the poor.

There are perhaps hundreds of thousands – or even more – like Bahati who deserve to benefit from the government’s cash-transfer program during this pandemic but are not. They will continue to suffer, and in worst cases, losing their loved ones because they are unable to take good care of them.

Calls are being for the government to expand the list, allow oversight of the selection process, which has been lacking. Only deserving people must benefit.