Same Continent, Different Worlds: Part 1

By Kiva Fellows in Africa, KF16
Compiled by Tejal Desai, Sierra Leone

Kiva Fellows from KF16 take on Africa!

Where might you find muzungu hunting? Where do Kenya’s elite runners hail from? And what do most borrowers in Burkina Faso use their business profits for? Kiva Fellows from KF16 bring you a unique perspective from the diverse and vast continent of Africa! We patched together an overview of each of our placement countries that includes: basic socioeconomic stats, common stereotypes (and to what extent they are true or false), greatest challenges, most common loan products at our respective field partners, and the  borrowers’ most common use of their profits.  This first post of a two-part series focuses on Kenya, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso. We hope our summaries give you a new perspective on the continent and its distinct countries that we’ve been fortunate to explore during the Kiva fellowship!

Claire Markham & Daniel Jung, Kenya

A SMEP borrower in Maua, Kenya selling beans and rice.

1. Basic country stats

% Living Below Poverty Line: 45.9% as of 2005 according to the World Bank

GDP per capita: GNI per capita as of 2010: US$790 according to the World Bank

% Women in the Workforce: Data unavailable.

% Labour participation rate for females aged 15+: 76% according to the World Bank

% Labour participation rate for males aged 15+: 88% according to the World Bank

2. Most common stereotype about Kenya?
A common stereotype is that Kenyans are excellent runners. To some extent, this is true. Of the 75 medals Kenya has won in the Olympics over time, 68 of these medals have been from athletics events.  Additionally, Kenyans have won over 70 marathon races worldwide this year. That being said, it would be inaccurate to stereotype all Kenyans as fast runners – in fact, 75% of Kenya’s elite runners come from one tribe, the Kalenjins. Some of the best runners also come from higher altitude areas of the country which contributes to their running performance.

3. Greatest challenge
The most significant recent challenge in Kenya has been “the worst drought in 60 years” resulting in enormous food shortages. Compounding the devastation caused by the most recent drought was another major challenge in Kenya, “corruption among the authorities meant to be helping the people.”

Despite these difficulties, microfinance institutions and its customers are making efforts to alleviate some of the damage of future droughts through the use of loans for water tanks and irrigation equipment. This will help to ensure that in future dry periods, there is more water to use for agricultural purposes to reduce the degree of food shortages.

4. Most common loan product at field partner, SMEP
Though SMEP offers a variety of loan products, including loans to finance businesses, green products, water products, and school fees, the most popular loan product by far is individual business loans.

5. Clients’ most common use of profits
At SMEP, there are an exceedingly large number of customers who use their loan to add stock to their retail shop where they sell cereal, fruit, flour, sugar, maize, among other items.

Lauren Barra, Tanzania

 1. Basic country stats
% Living Below Poverty Line: 36% (CIA World Factbook)

Average Annual Income: $723 (
% Women in the Workforce: 89% - the highest in the world! 

2. Most common stereotype about Tanzania
Before I left Mombasa, my Kenyan co-workers gave me the low-down. “Tanzanians are lazy and they speak terrible English.” Yes, the East African work ethic in general is very different from the maniac “money never sleeps” energy in NYC. Does work get accomplished at the same pace I’m used to back home? No. But I find my Tanzanian co-workers to be just as hard-working as any in Kenya and even more dedicated than many in the States. Tujijenge employees take pride in their work and will stay as late as needed to get the job done right.

As for the English? Let’s just say my Swahili is rapidly improving…

3. Greatest challenge
Muzungu hunting.

My first week in Tanzania, my FSS and I had an unfortunate run in with immigration. Three immigration officers came to my MFI, claiming they were performing security checks for Al-Shabaab. Instead, they made a B line for the two muzungus, demanded to see our passports and questioned the validity of our visas. They refused to believe I was here as a volunteer, insisting I needed to pay $200 for a Tanzania work visa. Same with my FSS – although he’s based in Nairobi and marked “business trip” on his Tanzania entry form, they threatened to take us downtown.

We considered calling the embassy – our visas were 100% legit and these guys were just looking for a bribe. Management took them into a separate room and I hear the conversation went something like this, “Maybe their visas are in order, maybe not. But it’s Friday afternoon and we can detain them over the weekend until the embassy sorts this out on Monday.” Spend the weekend in a Tanzanian jail? No thanks, rafiki.

Immigration left shortly thereafter and we haven’t heard from them since. Supposedly $400 greased their dirty palms on the way out the door. I’ll never know for sure, but that’s one welcome party I’ll never forget.

4. Most common loan product at field partner, Tujijenge Tanzania, Ltd.

Group business loans. These small businesses range from food vendors and hair salons to selling chickens and charcoal.

5. Clients’ most common use of profits
School fees. Although children attend primary school for free, families still have to pay for uniforms, testing fees and school supplies. There are also reports of children not attending school because of poorly paid teachers demanding enrollment money from them.

Allison Mooney, Burkina Faso

1. Basic country stats

% of population living below the poverty line 46.4%
GDP per capita: $1,200
% Women in the Workforce: 80%

2. Most common stereotype about Burkina Faso
That it doesn’t exist. This is false :-) If you know enough about it to have a stereotype, you’ve probably done some real research. As far as Sahel area, most people assume the whole area is brown and dead. Although Ouaga itself doesn’t have much to offer nature-wise, the west of the country is beautiful and green!

Beautiful, green Burkina!3. Greatest challenge

Although perspectives differ on the greatest challenges facing Burkina, one that is really holding the country back is lack of education and unemployment. Only 21% of the population is literate (CIA Factbook), so there is no incentive for international corporations to come and utilize the capable workforce here. As a result, official unemployment is 77%. Although people find something to fill their time and make enough money to feed their children, moving above subsistence will require some changes to the Burkinabe education.

4. Most common loan product at field partner, Micro Start/AFD
Small business loans- selling fruit, pagnes (African cloth), etc… Most are group loans but some individual.

5. Clients’ most common use of profits
Education and health of children. Often families need to take their children out of school here because they need them to work to help feed the family. With the loans, often the parents can make enough money to support the family so children can stay in school.

Tejal Desai
is a Kiva Fellow completing her fellowship with BRAC Sierra Leone. Interested in becoming a Kiva fellow? Click here to learn more about the program and apply!

About the author

Tejal Desai