Residents of Kogutu village in Western Kenya faced a unique proposition: an offer of free money to spend as they wished, no strings attached, for a span of 12 years.
However, this intriguing opportunity raised suspicions among the villagers, with concerns about being lured into a cult or a secretive organization like the Illuminati.
The initiative was carried out by GiveDirectly, a US non-profit organization, as part of a universal basic income project.
Each registered recipient received $22 (Sh3,198) monthly via mobile money transfer. This experiment, funded by Silicon Valley, aimed to disrupt global poverty by providing direct cash support to individuals.
Documenting this social experiment over five years, the upcoming Netflix documentary titled “Free Money” sheds light on the journey of Kogutu’s residents.
The film delves into the impact, challenges, and unforeseen consequences of this bold initiative, exploring both its potential and pitfalls.
During the pandemic, the concept of government support and universal basic income gained traction as a means of alleviating stress and anxiety among citizens.
Studies have shown that cash transfers, like the ones carried out in Kogutu, have a more positive track record in addressing poverty than other methods such as food assistance or vouchers.
The documentary also tackles concerns raised by the villagers themselves. Some feared that the influx of money might strain relationships, with worries that women might leave their partners or develop a newfound assertiveness (“grow horns”).
Notable figures, including Elon Musk, have recognized the potential need for universal basic income in the face of automation-driven job displacement. The film explores the intersection of economic shifts and humanitarian efforts.
“Free Money” is a collaborative effort between Kenyan film production company LBx Africa, led by director Sam Soko, and New York’s Insignia Films.
The documentary not only captures the villagers’ experiences but also delves into the ethical considerations of outsiders experimenting with the economic dynamics of a local community.
Through the lens of Kenyan journalist Larry Madowo’s skepticism, the film examines the consequences of outsiders reshaping a local economy.
It showcases the diverse ways in which villagers chose to utilize their newfound income, with some focusing on basic needs and education.
As part of a larger series, the documentary premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before making its debut on Netflix in the coming month.