The first phase of the Hustler Fund was launched on November 30, 2022. A few days later, a network of accounts using President William Ruto’s image started sharing posts claiming to offer loans at a price. Some claiming to increase the loan limit and others claiming to give out the same loan with zero interest. This investigation establishes these players, the coordination, and the narrative communally shared.
With a daily interest rate of 0.02%, the Hustler Fund has lent Ksh27 billion to Kenyans. A report published by Mwango Capital, shows this is an increase from Ksh3.7 billion by December 5, 2022, a few days after its launch. According to President Ruto, by May 1, 2023, Ksh17 billion had been repaid and the fund had 15 million customers.
The Hustler Fund is a government-sponsored fund under the new Ministry of Cooperatives and MSMEs Development. Its main objective is to offer affordable credit services to small and medium-sized enterprises without being crushed by predatory lenders.
President, William Ruto, considers himself a hustler. An image he embodied during his presidential campaign. During this period, President Ruto spoke about being raised in a humble family to being a poultry farmer to now, a president. A brilliant reinvention of a Kenyan once considered to be at the bottom of the pyramid. The Hustler Fund was a popular promise touted during the last general elections with an aim of uplifting small and medium business owners, financially.
Over the past year, the term ‘Hustler Fund’ has morphed from what the government considers a fund to support those in informal economic activities, to organized inauthentic narratives on social media. Narratives that look to mislead and scam unsuspecting borrowers.
Language as a tool for communication is dynamic. With this kind of flexibility comes a price. Identifying a particular linguistic trait is a challenge, especially in a pool where dis/misinformation thrives. More specifically, a language that is familiar, relatable and colloquial to the target audience. Such coordinated narratives use a language that oftentimes promises easy and short-cut solutions to an issue that’s presented as complex. In this case, accessing these funds. While this post complains about how tedious accessing these funds is, just to receive so little into your mobile money wallet, another claims to offer a solution.
It says, “DM kama unadai kuongzewa limit ya Hustler Fund”, asking borrowers to send a direct message to this account if they are in need of a loan increment. It goes on to state its charges for this offer. For a loan worth; Ksh15,000, it would cost a borrower Ksh150.
Going with ‘kuongezewa’, ‘limit’ and ‘Hustler Fund’ as keywords of similar requests and offers on Facebook, a number of accounts and groups come up. From this search, a number of posts are shared about two days after the launch of the first phase of these funds. One by accounts named DêLã Kîñg, Nellie Evans Samita and Giddix D’e Hazard.
These scammers are preying on people’s desperation to meet needs. This investigation established that there were 6,464 posts shared in 612 coordinated Facebook pages, with more variations of words being used by these networks. Another sophisticated tactic in this pool is numerous accounts with variations of the word Hustler Fund. From ‘Husler Fund’, Husler Fund’s, Husler Fund Increment Loans, Hustler Fund Loan For Kenyan Citizen, Hustlar Fund, Hustler’s fund �� to HUSTLER funds firm 2022-2027/2032. These accounts changed their names either once or more than once, within the period this fund was launched. (See screengrab below).
For these malicious accounts, generating these variations possibly amplifies their narrative. A behaviour very common with influence operations. While this could be the case, one part of the Hustler Fund campaign is authentically correct but still falls within this pool of manipulative Facebook accounts. Cost is the biggest challenge for actors of these campaigns. While a wider reach and amplification is their greatest objective, the need to create fake accounts seems to be solving the question on cost, effectively.
Digital credit facilities offer short-term loans through online systems which are convenient to borrowers, who necessarily do not require to have any formal credit history. This makes it both attractive and easily accessible. Advances on technology, mobile wallets and accessibility to mobile money has enabled growth of the digital lending industry. By January 30, 2023, the Central Bank of Kenya had licensed about 22 Digital Credit Providers (DCPs), with more applications under review. This means, only the Digital Credit Providers licensed and regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya are allowed to operate. Having offers on the internet that offer more affordable loans than the ones offered by some of these digital credit facilities makes it more attractive.
Across these 612 pages, a number of faces are common. That of President William Ruto and the First Lady Rachel Ruto. President William Ruto because it was a key agenda during his 2022 presidential campaign and the First Lady, associated with Inua Jamii, a similar government programme with an objective to uplift poor and vulnerable Kenyans by offering them bi-monthly stipend. Posts particularly claiming to show the First Lady offering Inua Jamii Loans are false.
This is because this programme is not run by the Office of the First Lady. Moreover, this programme does not offer loans. Inua Jamii is under the Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs and Special Programmes. This fact-check published by Piga Firimbi, flagged accounts sharing these claims as fake.
The former First Lady Margaret Kenyatta’s face has equally been used by some of these accounts. An account by the name Magret Kenyatta, uses a profile photo of the former First Lady, with numerous posts claiming to offer loans under the Inua Jamii Programme.
Another account identified in this pool; Rachael’s Ruto Loan’s claims to be offering a number of loans under the ‘Inua Jamii Soft Loan Project.’ A Mama Mboga (grocer) Loan of Ksh10,000 at a fee of Ksh400, Boda Boda (motorbike operator) Loan of Ksh20,000 at a fee of Ksh660, Business Loan of Ksh50,000 at a fee of Ksh1,299 and finally a School Fees Loan of Ksh30,000 at a fee of Ksh880.
Funds provided by the Inua Jamii programme only covers cash transfers to contracted banks for orphans and vulnerable children (CT-OVC), older persons (OPCT), people with severe disabilities (PWSD-CT) and a hunger safety net programme (HSNP). These bi-monthly funds range between Ksh. 2,000 and Ksh. 5,400.
The digital credit facilities are two-fold. On one end, it solves instant financial needs and on the other, plunges borrowers into a debt trap. For the longest time, digital credit facilities have been a popular source for small, short-term and instant loans to low-income households in Kenya. One key characteristic despite their inclusivity is their exploitative lending terms and conditions. It is a market that constantly invites people to borrow and greatly survives by these loans being paid back.
Digital lending apps are regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya’s Act (2021). Normally, defaulters get a 30-day notice in writing or electronic means before they are listed on the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB). Negative credit information makes it nearly impossible for a borrower to access loans from other lenders. Moreover, it affects the borrower’s loan limit.
One of the biggest catches by these accounts posing as providers of the Hustler Fund is increasing a borrower’s loan limit at a fee not necessarily by looking at the borrower’s credit score, as is. For this fund there is only one way to have the loan limit increased. After every four months, the Kenyan government will be reviewing the borrowing history of beneficiaries of this fund and award them a higher credit score. This is based on how regularly they borrowed and repaid.
Falsified Repeated Comments
There are different ways to classify this network of accounts and the activities associated with them. Amplifiers in this pool are accounts that are simply focused on making sure this narrative has a wider reach and engagement. In this case, posts claiming to be offering Inua Jamii loans and promising a loan increment for the Hustler Fund rely on replies and comments from other Facebook accounts alleging to have received these funds to boost their engagement and their ‘credibility.’
These fake testimonials create an illusion that these loans are easily accessible, the limit can be increased at an affordable fee and an extended repayment period of 21 months with zero interest. About 30 mobile numbers extracted from this pool of actors are either temporarily out of service or unreachable. These mobile numbers are listed under posts claiming to offer both Inua Jamii and Hustler Funds loans with a thread of similar comments on each of these posts.
In a phone interview with Piga Firimbi, Esther Wanjiku said she almost fell for these responses. She says she sent her details to a post claiming to be offering a loan run by the office of the president. Little did she know, to get the funds sent to her mobile wallet, she would need to pay Ksh360 then receive the loan she applied for, bits of information excluded in this Facebook post.
The legitimate way to access the Hustler Fund is through a cell phone, on any mobile network. First, a borrower is required to apply for this fund. By dialing USSD Code *254#, an applicant is required to accept the terms and conditions provided by either Safaricom, Airtel or Telkom, depending on the loan they are applying for. Once this is done, customers are then required to provide their mobile money pins. A notification then follows confirming successful registration, and the loan limit. Across all these mobile networks, a customer is not asked to pay any fee to access these funds.
This article was produced with mentorship from the African Academy for Open Source Investigations (AAOSI), to tackle disinformation that undermines our democracies, as part of an initiative by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and Code for Africa (CfA). Visit disinfo.africa for more information.
This article was edited by Piga Firimbi Fact-Checking Editor Linda Ngari.