In Africa, Catholic microfinance in full development

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The market of the town of Tai, near the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast/Kafougue/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/


In several countries in Africa, the Catholic Church has opened microfinance institutions or bought out banks.

If the activity is not without risk, it is intended as a means of fighting poverty and supporting low-income people.

André Roland Youm is a man proud of the institution of which he is director of partnership, studies and development: Caurie-Microfinance, a microfinance institution belonging to the Catholic Church of Senegal. “Today almost 140,000 customers, 90% of whom are women who, with a few exceptions, are in small businesses”, he enthuses, sitting in his office on rue de Douaumont, in the town of Thies, 70 km east of Dakar.

In this overwhelmingly Muslim country, “It is above all for our method of approach, our customer-oriented operation in rural areas, that these people come to us”, points out André Youm. In effect, “in accordance with the social teaching of the Church, Caurie-MF finances the activities of the populations with a preferential option for the poorest”.

In 2021, Catholic microfinance thus produced 21 billion CFA francs (about 32 million euros) in production, with outstanding credit of more than 14.6 billion CFA francs (more than 22 million euros) in end of year. “It must be recognized that the Covid has been there and has had a major impact on our portfolio situation, confides the director of the partnership. After a relaunch phase of our activities, the economic situation is gloomy and this has an impact on reimbursements. The situation is more difficult for small traders and artisans. »

” Fight against poverty “

Founded in 2005 in Senegal, Caurie-MF is one of the financial institutions created by the Church, which has been increasingly involved in finance in Africa in recent years, particularly in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and even, more recently, in Malawi, where the diocese of the capital Lilongwe bought a bank. To read: Malawi: the diocese of Lilongwe buys a bank

In Côte d’Ivoire, the hitherto positive experience of the Catholic Savings and Credit Fund (Fcec) of the diocese of Yamoussoukro (center), created in 2008, is even in the process of being extended to other dioceses in the country. . “Since October 2021, the bishops have approved our desire to extend the Fcec to all the dioceses of Côte d’Ivoire. We are now talking about the Catholic Savings and Credit Fund of Côte d’Ivoire,” explains Father Jacques Kouassi, chairman of the structure’s board of directors. Initiator of this first microfinance of the Catholic Church in Côte d’Ivoire, the priest ensures that“All that remains is for us to implement certain decisions at the next general assembly so that the Fcec is legally national in scope”.

In Yamoussoukro, Fcec customers “are the men and women of all religious denominations, cooperatives, associations, small and medium-sized enterprises, parishes, groups and movements of Catholic actions “says Estelle Etché, the general manager. In this predominantly rural diocese, she says, “the amount of loans in one year amounts to nearly 700 million CFA francs (about one million euros). The borrowing rate is 17%, it is linear for a loan with a maximum duration of 12 months and decreasing for a loan with a minimum duration of 18 months. The recovery rate is 70%.

If through its financial institutions, these Churches intend “ fight against poverty and ensure better support for people with low incomes through the granting of credit for the development of their activities”in the eyes of Father Barnabé Korgo, doctor in economics, teacher-researcher, they also go there “ doubtless with the double objective of finding there the means of financing their pastoral activities and of “evangelizing” this area of ​​economic life. »

Ethical finance

Although the opening of these financial structures is relatively recent on the African continent, “The Church has always been and still is present in these activities, simply because they are human. Moreover, the history and social doctrine of the Church show quite clearly that financial activity is not a novelty in the Church”, underlines the economics specialist.

But this presence is badly perceived by some, like Elie Mobio, Catholic, who wonders: “Investing in finance, for a church that wants to be poor, would it not be for the African Church to serve two masters at the same time as Christ proscribes in the Gospel? » This faithful Ivorian says not ” enjoy “ the fact for African dioceses to embark on an activity “purely lucrative”. “Even if it starts from a good will, the loans granted are not zero-rate loans, he comments. When we know the risks of such an activity, we can legitimately fear that the Church will squander its funds, as in the story of the purchase of a building in Great Britain by the Vatican. »

To read: Father Korgo: “No business, even a religious one, can exist without making a profit”

Citing the encyclical of Benedict XVI Caritas in truthFather Jacques Kouassi underlines for his part that“An ‘ethical finance’ is developing above all through microcredit and, more generally, microfinance. These processes are valuable and deserve broad support. Their positive effects are felt even in the less developed regions of the earth..

In his eyes, microfinance, “in view of the accuracy of the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and our fourteen years of experience in the field”, can constitute a springboard for the Church in the realization of her dual spiritual and temporal mission. On condition, Father Korgo reminds us, of not forgetting that for the Catholic investor, the risks are twofold: to the risks linked to economic calculation are added the risks linked to the respect of the principles of the social teaching of the Church”.

Guy Aimé Eblotié

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