Iconic singer hopes to close loan gap for African women

Angelique Kidjo performs at Carnegie Hall in New York City in February. (AFP)
Updated 23 November 2019

Iconic singer hopes to close loan gap for African women

  • In some African countries, women cannot open a bank account without their husband or father, or inheritance laws leave them with little or nothing

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 percent of what they earn in educating their children and supporting families and communities as opposed to about 40 percent for men, it is 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 to launch AFAWA, or Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa. Already the G7 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 cannot 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 percent 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 that 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 that the project is not 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 are not 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 did not 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 US-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 percent to 63 percent 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.”

Habtoor joins Israeli tech firm on ‘robo-taxi’ plan 

Updated 23 September 2020

Habtoor joins Israeli tech firm on ‘robo-taxi’ plan 

  • Mobileye technology will be fitted into cars from the Habtoor dealership, which has the Dubai franchise for Mitsubishi
  • Founder of Mobileye Amnon Shashua: Dubai is classic territory to launch technologies for smart cities and a natural for deploying autonomous cars

DUBAI: In the latest sign of increased UAE-Israeli business co-operation, Al Habtoor Group, the Dubai-based hotels and motor conglomerate, has teamed up with a Jerusalem-based company on plans to put “robo-taxis” on the roads of the emirate.

Khalaf Al Habtoor, founding chairman of the group, signed a deal with Mobileye, the Israeli high-tech firm owned by Intel, that will provide the technology for the next generation of self-drive and autonomous vehicles in the UAE.

Mobileye technology will be fitted into cars from the Habtoor dealership, which has the Dubai franchise for Mitsubishi, one of the leading volume car marques in the region, as well as several luxury brands.

Amnon Shashua, the billionaire Israeli founder of Mobileye who sold the company to Intel for $15 billion in 2017, said that by early 2023 there would be a “fleet of autonomous, self-driving robo-taxi vehicles” on the streets of Dubai.

“Dubai is one of the most advanced cities in the world. It is classic territory to launch technologies for smart cities and a natural for deploying autonomous cars,” he added.

Mobileye’s tech provides data for map reading, navigation, traffic and driving conditions in a kit that can be fitted to Habtoor’s fleet, which serves government and public sector transport in Dubai, or can be bought by individual motorists as an add-on package

Al Habtoor said: “This deal will benefit both countries, the UAE and Israel, as well as neighboring countries and Europe.”

Shashua said that while Dubai was a center for growth in the Middle East, he would look to expand into other emirates and countries in the region.

Asked whether Mobileye would like to do business in Saudi Arabia, he said: “We look at things not through a political lens, but from the point of view of areas or territories where we can expand. The only reason we could not expand to Dubai before was the absence of a relationship between Israel and the UAE.

“It is true that Mobileye is owned by Intel, an American company, but still it is very difficult to start sending Israeli engineers in disguise. From a logistic perspective, it is not convenient. I believe there are many more opportunities in the Middle East and, once the ties are made formally, we could expand even further,” he added.

The first phase of the partnership will see 1,000 petrol-engine cars from the Habtoor fleet fitted with Mobileye technology, leading up to trials with a human “safety driver” in early 2022, before a fleet of “smart cars” is launched later that year or early 2023.

The business relationship between Habtoor and Mobileye began before the recent normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel. The Dubai-based company has been among the most enthusiastic advocates of closer business links with Israel, recently signaling it will open a representative office in the Israeli capital.