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.”


Barclays sees $2 per barrel impact to oil prices as coronavirus fears threaten demand

Updated 43 min 52 sec ago

Barclays sees $2 per barrel impact to oil prices as coronavirus fears threaten demand

  • More than 100 people have died and over 4,000 cases of the new virus have been confirmed in China
  • Barclays expects the OPEC and other allies to step in and take further measures to keep the markets tight

BENGALURU: Barclays said on Tuesday oil prices will be impacted by $2 per barrel on the potential economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak in China.
More than 100 people have died and over 4,000 cases of the new virus have been confirmed in China, leading authorities to increase preventive measures, impose travel restrictions and also extend the Lunar New Year holidays to limit the spread of the virus.
The bank sees a $2 per barrel downside to their full-year Brent and WTI forecasts of $62 per barrel and $57 per barrel, respectively.
Compounding the effects of the spillover to economic growth from China and the region, Barclays expects transitory oil demand erosion of about 0.6-0.8 million barrels per day (mb/d) in the first quarter of this year, or 0.2 mb/d for the full year.
“If air passenger traffic in China declined by half in first quarter of 2020, it would likely lead to a 300,000 barrels per day year on year decline in jet-kerosene demand from China,” the bank said adding the fall in road transport would likely be less severe than in the past given reduced reliance on buses.
Barclays expects the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other allies to step in and take further measures to keep the markets tight, in case the fall in demand is more acute.
Oil prices have been down for the last six sessions, but the bank said that the market reaction was likely overdone.
Barclays said the actual economic fallout from the coronavirus could be less severe than the 2003 SARS outbreak, given that the new virus seems less lethal than SARS so far and the measures taken by Chinese authorities.
The bank said the geopolitical risks to global supplies remain high as US-Iran tensions could continue to gradually escalate and oil production in Libya could fall further if the blockade of key infrastructure facilities continues.
Brent crude prices are currently trading around $59 per barrel and US WTI at around at $53 per barrel.