In Summary
  • Table banking is about saving and borrowing.
  • Everyone in the meeting puts their money on the table, whatever they have – loans, repayments, interest – then everyone says how much they need to borrow from what’s on the table.
  • At the end of the year, profits are shared based on the number of shares you have.
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GB and I were at a bar in Kilimani last Friday. We’d met earlier in the evening to set our annual goals. It took us about two hours to cover all the ground we needed to.

Now, here we were, amped and slightly buzzed with the energy that comes with completing a necessary yet onerous task. Like getting waxed. Or getting your teeth cleaned.

We had a few hours to kill before we headed back to home. He suggested we knock back some drinks. I was game.

(Yeah, you read that right. GB and I are one of those couples who set goals at the beginning of the year – together – then take stock quarterly, sometimes biannually. I document the goals and share them with him in a Google Word document. All this was my idea, of course. Now he’s warmed up to it. He takes it more seriously than I do. It’s a good thing to set goals, better yet to set them as a couple. It becomes another avenue to bond and grow together. This will come as giving away too much, but we also set bedroom goals. Ha-ha. Ahem.)

Anyway, it was around 10.30pm; GB said his two friends would join us soon. I sipped my whiskey between pursed lips. Saturday mornings are early mornings for me – 5am early. Plus, I was already dozing off at the table. I was chatting with my eyes half shut and didn’t even realise it. I remember Burna Boy’s ‘On The Low’ playing when GB poked me painfully in the ribs and told me to stop sleeping. I stuck my tongue out at him.

So the two friends join us, and after introductions and brief niceties, the lady says she’s from a table banking meeting.


I’d heard of table banking before but I’d never thought much about it. I imagined it as a chama, that members save money and invest as a group, sharing the returns amongst themselves or ploughing it back for reinvestment and growth.

I was wrong. I knew nothing.

I ask Shiro almost dismissively, like some pompous know-it-all: “But si table banking is chama?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

“Then it’s like what, a merry-go-round?”

“Oh hell no!” she says out aloud, almost falling off her seat. She sips the Guinness from her beer glass then says: “Merry-go-rounds are the most useless thing. Nobody grows. You gain nothing from being in one. It’s like moving money from the right pocket this month. Table banking is that thing for Rachel Ruto, Deputy President’s wife. It was made for women. Started around 1999/2000. We call it TB.”

GB is sitting up straighter in his seat. “Table banking originated in Bangladesh,” he says.

“I think so,” Shiro says. “TB is about saving and borrowing. Everyone in the meeting puts their money on the table, whatever they have – loans, repayments, interest – then everyone says how much they need to borrow from what’s on the table.”

“At what rate?” I ask.

“10% for three months. And we guarantee each other. Like in a sacco. So I’ll guarantee you and you’ll guarantee me. If I don’t pay, then it’s the guarantors who have to pay up, just like in a sacco. But for really big loans, there has to be security. Log books, title deeds... I own a shamba in Narok because one of the guys I’d guaranteed didn’t pay.”

“That means I have to have been saving with you for a while to borrow?”

“Yeah, Bett. We have proper books to keep track of activity. Everything that goes on the table has to be recorded, who’s borrowed what, when are they supposed to pay, how much, when they joined... That meeting can’t end until everyone has seen the records and made sure they’re accurate.”

“What if the money on the table isn’t enough?”

“Then some people won’t get,” says Shiro. “Everything is on first-come-first-served basis. Actually there are so many meetings where people don’t get the money they want. Today we had more than Sh1.5 million and it wasn’t enough. And,” she pauses to catch her breath, “you can’t borrow if you aren’t present in the meeting – as in, you can’t appoint a proxy to borrow for you. I tried that once and nobody would listen to me. Now I know the rules. We also have penalties for non-attendance or showing up late.”

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