The betting craze is sweeping Kenya like a storm, giving people hopes of quitting the paupers’ life and joining that exclusive millionaires’ club. According to one young betting enthusiast you can hit the jackpot “the very first time you bet and every single time after it!”. What was once associated with the risk-taking rich, a willingness to wager big money is now common talk. People from all walks of life are beginning to consider betting as a viable business venture. What expedites this craze is the little wager needed for today’s betting. KSH10 is all you need to be in the running for the elusive pot of gold.
A quick scan through Shujaaz’s vast SMS database shows that since February 2015 our fans have been talking to our fictional hero DJB about betting. Many were seeking more information on the benefits of betting, some were trying to borrow money from DJ B for betting and some even invited him to join them in “guaranteed win” betting opportunities.
In 2016 Shujaaz began a new campaign looking at Digital Financial Services (DFS) and their potential role to improve family finance. As part of the action research project Shujaaz fans were encouraged to share how they react to a financial crisis. From the overwhelming responses received it is clear that Shujaaz fans consider betting as a very real solution for solving their personal/ friends’/ parents’ financial problems.
These anecdotes paint a seductive picture of betting. But cases of young people losing their meagre earnings, tuition fees and upkeep money on bets have been on the rise, with some even resorting to suicide.
The competitive nature of young people and the desire to belong seem to deter them from sharing their disastrous betting experiences. People only want to hear success stories and so those are the stories we hear – whether real or imaginary.
The anecdotal evidence in our database suggests that some youth see betting as a new form of entertainment while others consider it a legitimate hustle; however we don’t know yet how deep in it they are. Shujaaz will be examining betting among our fans to understand more, so that we can raise the issue with them in terms that are relevant and may be helpful. Whatever we find, it is clear that with very few exceptions, betting does not offer real economic value to our audience and that it is detrimental to their financial and emotional health. It flies in the face of our DFS campaign which promotes responsible financial behaviours, including borrowing and spending.
To help us start careful digging into the true betting experiences, we propose DJ B will begin talking about betting in a neutral, subtle way. We don’t want him to lose credibility by finger-wagging about betting’s negative impacts when so many of his audience are convinced it is a simple and fun way to make free money with few consequences. And so we are trialling various ‘soft’ approaches he can take on our social media platforms: jokes and memes, push messages through SMS and real case studies in the Shujaaz comic book. This exploration should promote real rather than perfect experiences, drawing out some of the negatives and permitting our fans to begin talking truthfully in a safe space about their failures and betting disasters – and their wins as well. And we’ll see what happens, how the conversation develops, and whether a more complete discourse on gambling can lead DJB’s community in a new positive direction.
Lavinca Achieng is Research Co-ordinator at Well Told Story