Beyond the $ merry-go-round - Traditional Wisdom of Mweria
Tags: reciprocal exchange, merry-go-round, non-monetary, mutual aid, social contract, promises
When a community comes together to help one of its members and then helps the next members in a cycle; this practice is today called merry-go-round in Kenya - where members contribute money all to one member at each meeting. Sadly when people don’t have national currency the merry-go-round falls apart yet this practice is ancient and existed before national currency. Before national currency as we know it a community would help each other raise a barn, till land, fix a roof and so on. This was called different things by different tribes in Kenya: Kikuyu,: Gubato Kamba: Mwethya, Luo: Nyoluoro, Mijikenda: Mweria, Mweri-roho safi, Jiba, Hisa
Mweria is an ancient social contract of mutual aid – there is a debt to be paid by the person receiving the support – which is paid as they help others. It is a beautiful form of reciprocal exchange.
Following these ancient practices and bringing in transparent double entry accounting, groups (chamas) have been expressing their capacity to help each other in a mutual commitment (a group voucher or Community Inclusion Currency (#CIC)). When the group comes to support one of the members – the member receiving the Mweria (Mwenye mweria) gives the group vouchers (which represent that person’s debt to the group) and then when that person helps at the next Mweria they accept the vouchers in return (redeem them) as payment for their services (coming back to a balance of trade).
This integrates the modern money-based merry-go-round with the older Mweria and enables the holders of these vouchers to also use them in-lieu of barter trade(currency) and as well as a way to raise funds, i.e. such vouchers can be sold at discount by individuals or the group in order to raise funds needed.
If we think of mutual aid as a form of social contract or promise that is re-assignable (meaning that the voucher issuers are still liable for redeeming it but anyone can hold it as an asset) – then the Mweria becomes a form of group-promise which can be used for both crowd funding and a medium of exchange. When incorporating demurrage (holding taxes) into the social contract, groups also have a way to ensure that no one person accumulates too many vouchers – since a percentage of voucher holdings come back to a community fund over time. Note that the usage of promises (social contracts or vouchers) which can be made, accepted create a trust based economic system which we often call an economic commons.
Experimenting with digital forms of Mweria is what thousands of Kenyans are doing right now. Groups can also have a Mweria among groups! Where different villages can support one another and track reciprocity. We’ve seen 3,958 transaction among and between groups last week and they look like this:
So rather than purely a merry-go-round cycle that depends on national currency groups in Kenya using voucher/CICs are able to account for mutual aid without scarce Kenyan money while also using these vouchers as both a medium of exchange and crowd-funding tool. For instance groups are using vouchers a way to track who from the chama is working on communal farms (as in the first image). Learning from the traditions of Mweria helped us as Grassroots Economics remember that land leasing/ownership is a colonial construct vs stewardship and rotational farming/community support which been the norm for millions of years.