Realities Of Microfinance In Benin. (Part 1, The White Man)
Just to clarify, this is the sound of a small child bursting into tears at the first site of me. And once again it’s the sound that welcomes me as I enter a Beninese village, accompanying the loan agent to make sure my training has stuck.
“Ha ha. Yovo yovo yovo yovo”, exclaims the mother (Haha. White man white man white man). And picks up the child to force her closer to me.
Smile. Yes, very funny. Haha. At least the whole village is now surrounding us and laughing along. I guess this is one way to break the ice – frightening the young children with the White Man.
Oh well. Let’s get down to business. The loan agent explains my presence, what Kiva does, and what’s needed to take a Kiva loan (a photo of the group). And the questions begin. Some tough ones in there too.
“I want a loan for less than that. Does Kiva not care about me?”
We have a minimum value here because anything less is just not worth the cost of the extra work - which would be passed on as higher, and therefore unsustainable, interest rates.
“Can you give us a machine?”.
No, that’s not what I’m here for, I’m helping to provide loans.
“Can you give us a bigger loan for a machine?”.
No, your credit limit will increase following good repayment and let’s hope that one day you can get that machine.
“When you go home, ask your friends to give us a machine”.
Ok, fine, if it’ll stop this line of questioning, I’ll see what I can do. That’s four village groups this week who’ve asked me this. Let’s hope my friends are feeling generous.
You see there are still some very clear rules of thumb that accompany a white man in Africa (well, in Benin – I won’t speak for the rest but I have a feeling…). They were explained to me nicely by Gilles, the credit agent in Allada, a rural town north of Cotonou.
1. Everything that comes from the white man is good.
“If you come with me and talk, they will say yes, even if they don’t understand. If it’s from the white man, they will agree. Next time when I come on my own, they will refuse”.
2. Everything that comes from the white man is free.
“If we tell them this loan comes from white people, they will think ‘great, this is aid’ and not pay it back”.
3. The white man has A LOT of money.
“Not all white people are rich?”. Depends by whose standards, but looking around here, yes, probably.
And just before I leave, the mother tries once again. For luck, I suppose.
It’s become something combining both crying and laughing. Sometimes I know exactly what she means.
Due to the cultural sensitivities around photography here (more on this in part 2 of the series), I’m afraid I haven’t much to show you with these posts. But I can point you to groups which have gone up on Kiva in the last couple of weeks – they tend to disappear off the entrepreneurs’ list pretty quickly, but click on the screenshots to see some full profiles!