Singer hopes to close fi­nanc­ing gap for African women

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Business - BY CARA ANNA

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — The in­sect-eaten money flut­tered in pieces to the floor. For global mu­sic star An­gelique Kidjo, that im­age of her grand­mother hav­ing to use a closet as a bank is driv­ing her de­sire to see African women leap the many ob­sta­cles to ob­tain­ing credit — and re­spect.

The Benin-born singer, one of Africa’s iconic artists and a col­lab­o­ra­tor with Philip Glass and oth­ers, is the voice of a new project aimed in part at rewrit­ing laws across the con­ti­nent that prevent mil­lions of women from be­com­ing a more pow­er­ful eco­nomic force.

In an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, Kidjo de­scribed what she has seen over decades of travel in Africa dur­ing which women in vi­brant mar­ket­places wished they had the means to do more.

“Why do banks give more loans to men ver­sus women? That’s the ques­tion I have,” she said. “Mil­lions of women en­trepreneur­s in Africa, they lack loans ver­sus the men. Once again, we come back to this pa­tri­archy. And we know men pay less back than women.”

Every time credit is re­fused to African women, who in­vest some 90% of what they earn in ed­u­cat­ing their chil­dren and sup­port­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties as op­posed to about 40% for men, it’s a dis­as­ter, Kidjo said. “We’re tak­ing up re­duc­ing the poverty rate in Africa to the small­est num­ber ever. That’s my pas­sion. That’s why I’m here.”

She will help the African De­vel­op­ment Bank next week launch AFAWA, or Af­fir­ma­tive Fi­nance Ac­tion for Women in Africa. Al­ready the G-7 group of the world’s ma­jor democ­ra­cies has com­mit­ted $250 mil­lion, and the bank is pro­vid­ing $1 bil­lion for the project that will be de­ployed across all 54 coun­tries.

The goal is to raise $5 bil­lion for ef­forts that in­clude help­ing to guar­an­tee loans, train­ing women on fi­nan­cial mat­ters and elim­i­nat­ing laws and reg­u­la­tions that make ac­cess­ing credit more dif­fi­cult. African women face a $42 bil­lion fi­nanc­ing gap even though one in four starts or man­ages a busi­ness, the high­est per­cent­age in the world, the bank says.

In some African coun­tries, women can’t open a bank ac­count with­out their hus­band or fa­ther, or in­her­i­tance laws leave them with lit­tle or noth­ing. That means no col­lat­eral.

But re­forms are catch­ing on. In the World Bank’s lat­est Women, Busi­ness and Law re­port in 2018, 32% of re­forms tracked in sub-Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries ad­dressed equal treat­ment for women and men in ac­cess­ing credit and fi­nan­cial ser­vices. An­gola, Congo and Zam­bia joined oth­ers in pro­hibit­ing gen­der-based credit dis­crim­i­na­tion, it said.

With the new fund for fi­nanc­ing African women “we will be able to go as low as a few hun­dred dol­lars’ loan ... for peo­ple who need it the most,” said Vanessa Moun­gar, the African De­vel­op­ment Bank’s Cha­dian-French di­rec­tor of gen­der, women and civil so­ci­ety.

She was not ready to an­nounce fur­ther pledges but said talks are con­tin­u­ing with po­ten­tial donor coun­tries, in­clud­ing African ones. With the con­ti­nent’s 1.2 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion ex­pected to dou­ble by 2050, the pres­sure for growth is huge.

“Look, women are one of the most pow­er­ful forces of na­ture on this con­ti­nent,” Moun­gar said. “If they can be eco­nom­i­cally em­pow­ered, trans­for­ma­tion will be fast-tracked like we’ve never seen.”

Launch­ing along with the new fi­nanc­ing project is an in­dex to as­sess how com­mer­cial banks are per­form­ing. “When they come to us for more (loans) we’ll say, ‘What have you done for women?’” Moun­gar said.

The project is also turn­ing ac­count­abil­ity on it­self, with Kidjo and other am­bas­sadors meant to speak up if they think the project isn’t mov­ing quickly or ef­fec­tively enough.

True, Kidjo said. “I’m not a very pa­tient per­son. Those women, they don’t have time to waste. Their liveli­hood is in dan­ger. I’m gonna be very strict.”

Women across Africa have told her they don’t want char­ity, the singer said. They know how to make money but aren’t given the chance to try.

She re­called women in Ghana who re­sorted to dig­ging a hole in the ground to stash their earn­ings be­cause they didn’t have bank ac­counts. And dur­ing a visit to Benin last month, one woman told her that to ob­tain a loan of 5,000 CFA ($8) she had to show a prop­erty deed and hand over 100,000 CFA as col­lat­eral.

Such ex­pe­ri­ences have helped to in­spire another new pro­gram, the $100 mil­lion U.S.-run Women’s Global De­vel­op­ment and Pros­per­ity Ini­tia­tive fund with projects in 22 coun­tries in Africa and else­where. They in­clude Morocco, where women are ben­e­fit­ing from new laws that al­low them to own land.

The Africa-fo­cused AFAWA, with vo­cal back­ing from French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, will launch this month in Rwanda at the Global Gen­der Summit, which gath­ers mul­ti­lat­eral de­vel­op­ment banks from around the world.

When that East African na­tion changed its laws to give women ac­cess to land, their fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion jumped from 36% to 63% in just four years, Moun­gar said.

“Can you imag­ine?” she said. “I want all the women out there to know that’s what’s re­ally driv­ing us and our hearts. We are work­ing for them and noth­ing else.”

(As­so­ci­ated Press)

In this 2018 file photo, Benin’s An­gelique Kidjo per­forms in front of heads of states and world lead­ers dur­ing cer­e­monies at the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris. One of Africa’s iconic artists, Kiddo, is the voice of a new project aimed at rewrit­ing laws across the African con­ti­nent that keep mil­lions of women from be­com­ing a more pow­er­ful eco­nomic force.

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