A Cry for Benin
Benin is a country not often in the news. When I was a Kiva Fellow placed there, I’d come to appreciate this. It meant we didn’t have the political instability of Togo, the violence of Nigeria, or the food shortages of Niger. While Benin still had many flaws, it was stable compared to its neighbors. This gave it hope for the future – hope for growth and international investment.
On Thursday, a story about Benin reached the New York Times. That article, “Scheme May Unmoor Benin, An Anchor of Stability,” has prompted me to write you. While it’s nice to see Benin finally playing a role on the international stage, I fear that this story will give an incomplete and inaccurate view of Benin and its people, and discourage potential investors at a time when they are most needed. This threatens the hope for which Kiva and the people of Benin who have worked so hard.
Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, a scheme was uncovered in the country – a Ponzi-like scheme that is devastating tens of thousands of Beninese families. Officials estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 people were affected to the tune of $180 million, but the unofficial numbers are much greater when you add in the extended families that breadwinner often support. In a country where the GDP is only $690, $180 million is a lot of money. Losing $300 means losing half of your annual salary.
Most likely, Kiva’s clients in Benin didn’t invest in this scheme. Their loans average $349, which was about what you needed to buy in. But I can say that their families are still affected, as are their customers and their bank officers, as the aftermath of the scheme trickles down.
I’m writing to urge you not to give up on the people of Benin. Although there are currently no loans posted for Benin on the Kiva website, I encourage you to continue to check back and consider investing in Benin and its future however you can.