Cecilia Francis, 43, has never been debt-free ever since she started borrowing money from financial institutions.
When she joined her first group of fellow women through which they borrowed money from a financial institution six years ago, Cecilia was optimistic she would eventually say good bye to poverty. But she was wrong.
She has since been in financial problems. Cecilia was forced to join more groups to be able to borrow money from other financial institutions so she could service her loan. She borrows money to pay debts, which makes her end up in more debts.
The mother of three, who runs a small kiosk at the main market in Bukoba town, considers herself a debt slave. “I can say I am in debt bondage. I have known no peace ever since I started borrowing from the financial institutions. I keep getting into debt just to repay a loan here and there,” Cecilia says bitterly.
She is not alone. Eva Mushi, 41, who lives at Dar es Salaam suburb of Tabata almost lost her family house to debt. The house would have been auctioned had it not been for her husband who intervened. He had to repay the loan on her behalf. “There was a time when I found myself having to repay two different loans every week. I advised my wife to stop borrowing for I don’t see why she should,” says Thomas Mushi who recently finished repaying his wife’s loans.
Eva says instead of helping women out of poverty, the mushrooming financial institutions which have been growing at the expense of the poor women have been leading women into extreme poverty instead.
“They give you a loan and expect you to start repaying just in a week. This is so cumbersome. They are supposed to give us time to make enough money to service the loan. Paying monthly rather than weekly would be better,” says Eva.
Instead, Eva says all the money she earns ends up in the financial institution’s coffers while she remains penniless.
Some women have been taking loans without informing their husbands. Husbands are usually taken by surprise when employees from the financial institutions come knocking when their client defaults. They comb houses and leave them empty.
Women all over the country have been at the forefront to redeem their families out of poverty. This is why some have been borrowing money from financial institutions hoping to improve their families’ living standards. Unfortunately, in many cases, especially among small and medium entrepreneurs/farmers, things usually don’t turn out as expected.
Like in Cecilia’s case, many women end up becoming slaves to debt. This is how Hawa, 35, who runs a ladies salon ended up being bankrupt. Sitting in her almost empty boutique in Sinza, Hawa, whose once spotless face has lost its glow says she wonders whether she will ever be her real self again, free from debts.
Like Cecilia, Hawa also depends on loans to repay loans. She owes three different financial institutions today. She ended up like this because she needed money to repay the first loan, which required her to get a second loan from another financial institution. When she could not manage the repayment burden, Hawa resorted to getting a third loan. The burden kept growing and as a result, today Hawa borrows from whoever is ready to give her a loan so she can service her loans.
“I will be done with the first loan in two months and this will be a relief to me though not that much. Because I owe so many people right now, I have even changed routes for fear of bumping into people I owe. Sometimes I get home late purposely to avoid the shopkeepers in my neighbourhood that I owe too,” says Hawa, resting her face in her palm.
Vividly in despair, she explains that this is the reason her shop is half empty since she can not afford to buy goods for the shop anymore.
When asked whether they thought this year’s budget would help ease the heavy debt burdens they carry on their shoulders, interviewed women said they had no interest in the budget at all. They don’t bother to follow up on the budget Bunge session since what matters to them is getting money to service their loans. To them, the Bunge budget is for MPs who at the end of the day receive their sitting allowance.
It is the same budget, they claim, that has made them end up in the situation they are in today. “They normally read us interesting and promising things in the budget but we never see them at the end of the day,” says Eva.
Eva who grows and sells vegetables wishes the government could enable small farmers and entrepreneurs like her to easily get loans so they can improve their businesses. She has been frustrated by the bank conditions having attempted to get a bank loan several times but in vain. This is why she ended up taking a loan from a financial institution that promised to help her out of poverty but ended up making her even poorer.
In his 2012/2013 budget speech last week, finance minister Dr. William Mgimwa said the government has set aside funds to address the challenges of access to long-term loans, low agricultural productivity and unemployment. The government has set aside 30bn/- for the Tanzania Investment Bank; 40bn/- for the Agricultural Development Bank thereby increasing its capital to 100bn/-.
The finance minister said in his speech that the government has been making an effort to improve living conditions by creating employment. He said the various measures the government has taken to create employment include improving the policy and legal environment to facilitate the growth of the private sector, to expand financial services, including recapitalization of the Tanzania Investment Bank, Tanzania Women’s Bank, Tanzania Postal Bank, and Twiga BankCorp;… implementation of construction of infrastructure projects, specifically roads, electricity, agriculture and telecommunication and to empower people through various empowerment programmes.
Interviewed women, all who claimed they had no idea this was happening said all these would only be meaningful if the benefits trickled down to the common man.
Cecilia prays that this year’s budget considers that every mwananchi gets a fair share of the national cake, though part of her believes it will take centuries before the common woman, the poor, that is, who is enthusiastic to uplift her living standard realises her dream.