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Same Continent, Different Worlds: Part 2

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

Ow de body! Are Sierra Leone and Rwanda still danger zones? What challenges do Ugandans most commonly face? Kiva Fellows from KF16 bring you another 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.  Our part 2 series follows the Kiva Fellows through Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Uganda. We hope our summaries give you a new perspective on the continent and its distinct countries that we’ve been fortunate to explore, thanks to the Kiva fellowship!

Tejal Desai, Sierra Leone

A BRAC Borrower who used his loan to purchase rice, flour, and other grains and dry products.1. Basic country stats
% Living Below Poverty Line: 70.2% (CIA World Factbook)
Average Annual Income: $903 (
% Women in the Workforce: Adult female pop labor force participation: 65.4%, but women only earn 42% as much as men.

2. Most common stereotype about Sierra Leone
One common stereotype is that Sierra Leone is a very dangerous place to live and visit, with rebel crime and diamond smuggling being widespread occurrences.

Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002, has been brought to the attention of mainstream audiences by films like Blood Diamond, and has tainted this beautiful country’s image. Although this war is responsible for over 2,000,000 displaced Sierra Leoneans and 50,000 dead, Sierra Leone as a nation has been making strides forward to leave behind the legacy, has invested in the development of its infrastructure, and is considered one of West Africa’s safest destinations.

Gari, processed cassava, a common Sierra Leonean food product.

3. Greatest challenge
Sierra Leone’s high cost of living creates many challenges, as it is seldom adjusted for inflation, especially with the rising costs of food and fuel. For some perspective: rice, a Sierra Leone staple, runs about $25-30 for 50 kilograms, a taxi ride across town costs $1-2, and almost 70% of the population lives under $1.25 a day. BRAC borrowers cite inflation as the biggest threat to their businesses, as depreciating inventory creates holes in revenue and risk for increasing their quantity of goods. Hassan, picture above, owns a grain shop in Waterloo, Sierra Leone, and says inflation makes it difficult for him to keep up with losses in the value of gari (processed cassava, photo above) and rice.

4. Most common loan product at field partner, BRAC Sierra Leone
The microloan is the most popular ($100-$300 loans), but another loan product on the rise is the SEP loan – small enterprise loan, which is offered to business owners who want to expand their business (more info here).

5. Clients’ most common use of profits
Many BRAC borrowers utilize their profits to expand their businesses, but a majority cite paying for school fees and education this as the most common use of their profits. The cost of primary education in 2004 was 53,000 SLL (around $26) per student, and has only increased since. Parents struggle to cover the costs of additional costs that come with education: school supplies, increasing costs of transportation, and uniforms.

Whitney Webb & Kathrin Gerner, Rwanda

1. Basic country stats
Rwanda has a population of 10.6 million with 56% of the citizens living below the poverty line. The average annual income is $1000 USD and women make up 53% of the workforce.

2. Most common stereotype about Rwanda
The first things that come to most people’s minds when they hear Rwanda? Genocide. War Zone. Danger. These are some of the key words I heard from people in reaction to hearing where I was placed for my fellowship.

Yes, Rwanda suffered the worst genocides in recent African history. There is no changing the fact that roughly 20% of the Rwandan population was murdered in 1994. However, the country has since moved forward with acceptance and strength. Today, Rwanda is one of the cleanest, safest, and most organized countries in Africa to live or visit.

Beautiful Rwanda

3. Greatest challenge
One of the big issues in Rwanda right now is the lack of available land. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa and the population continues to grow at 3% a year. Roughly 90% of the population makes a living through agriculture. There is simply not enough land to go around.

Every time I visit the land of some of our agricultural borrowers, I am amazed at how small the plots actually are. The average landholder owns 0.5 hectares of farmland. It is unbelievable to see these plots stretch up the side of a hill that seems too steep to even climb.

There have been several government programs established such as land consolidation, improved seeds and fertilizers, and the irrigation of unusable land. Progress has been made, but as the population is set to double in 24 years, Rwanda will continue to fight an uphill battle.

4. Most common loan product at field partner, Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda (UOB)
The most common loan product at Urwego is the group loan. These loans are usually used to grow businesses selling vegetables, clothing, kitchen goods, or textiles. The group members are accountable for each other and guarantee one another’s debt.

5. Clients’ most common use of profits
The most common intended use of profits from a loan is to create a savings account. Many borrowers state that they wish to put money away to create a better future for their families.

Andrew Huelsenbeck, Uganda

1. Basic country stats
Population: 34,612,250

Languages: English (schools, law and some newspapers and radio), Luganda, and many others

Religions: Roman Catholic (41.9%), Protestant (42%), Muslim (12.1%)

Age Structure: 0-14 (49.9%), 15-64 (48.1%), 65+ (2.1%)

Population living below the poverty line: 35%

Average Family Income: about $200 per year

Sex division in the work force: Nearly three quarters of all formal salaried positions are held by men. But if we also count the informal sector, then the numbers are much closer to being equal, with women constituting about 47% of the workforce.

Sources include the CIA world factbook, Gorilla Safari, and Taxation and gender equity: a comparative analysis of direct and indirect taxes in developing and developed countries by Caren Grown and Imraan Valodia.

2. Most common stereotypes about Uganda
1. Ugandans are short-sited and will not succeed at paying back loans because they will use the money on other side projects.

2. Ugandans are difficult to employ because they often misappropriate company funds.

Both of these are actually fairly common problems in Uganda, but the problem seems to have less to do with the Ugandan people, and more with incentive structures. Many Ugandans have a lot on pressing issues on their plates: hungry and sick family members, school fees, houses and other construction projects, expensive funerals, etc. It makes sense that they would get money any way they can and then use it to cover the costs of these things in the short term. It also makes sense for Ugandans to not work hard and to take money if they are not monitored and are not in danger of losing their jobs, or worse, in danger of facing serious legal repercussions. Without penalties, I think many people elsewhere in the world would act similarly.

BRAC Uganda has done a fantastic job of creating incentive structures to prevent this kind of behavior. They train their borrowers in financial management and make them sign formal promissory notes before receiving any money. In addition, BRAC has many program managers and an entire department devoted to constantly monitoring borrowers and employees. When, for example, there is any evidence that an employee has misappropriated funds, managers in the Country Office will launch a full-scale investigation and will terminate the employee if necessary. These measures help immensely in navigating around stereotypically Ugandan tendencies.

3. Greatest challenges
Power outages: At the BRAC Uganda Country Office, the power is out about 50% of the time. This is because the hydroelectric dam on the Nile is not producing enough energy to power all of Kampala all the time. At BRAC, we are lucky in that we have a back up generator, which kicks on every time the power goes out. But for other business owners who don’t have the luxury of owning a generator, these outages can substantially reduce productivity. This is especially true for business owners just outside of Kampala, who sometimes see only a few hours of power each week.

Inflation: Inflation has been a huge problem in Uganda recently. Hovering at around 30%, it has reduced real incomes and has substantially increased the costs of living and doing business. This, in conjunction with regional droughts, has caused the prices of staples like matooke, sweet potatoes and charcoal to skyrocket.

4. Most common loan product at field partner, BRAC Uganda
Standard group microloans, which range anywhere from 100-800 USD. They are given to more than 125,000 women who are members of around 6,000 community-based microfinance groups throughout Uganda. BRAC also provides these women with training, technical assistance and helps them find ways to save. The women that receive the loans are often between 20 and 50 years old with little or no education. Virtually none of them have access to the formal financial sector or even to other microfinance products.

5. Clients’ most common use of profits
There are a number of ways that Ugandans are using the profits they are gaining from microfinancing. These mainly include sending their children to school, reinvesting in their businesses, and buying plots of land to build houses for their families.
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