‘Bank for the poor’ arrives in Niger

Niamey, October 29:

Tucked inside a nook in the capital city’s bustling Grand Marche, Niger Mutual Credit (CMI) opened its doors a little over a week ago to a clientele that other banks turn away: the very poor.

Under the auspices of the Niger finance ministry, CMI is the latest of several similar institutions throughout the world that seek to alleviate poverty via small, low-interest loans. With microcredit, a concept pioneered in Bangladesh by economist Muhammad Yunus, entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans are provided very small sums to start their own enterprises. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month for his work throughout the impoverished South Asian country.

Here in Niger CMI relies on financial backing from the French ministry of foreign affairs and cooperation and receives additional support from the International Mutual Credit Centre (CIC-M). Created in 1979 with the goal of promoting banking for people in developing co-untries, the CICM has more than 17 mutual credit federations operating in central and west Africa including Sengal, Mali and Cameroon.

According to Patricia Lavocat, who is in charge of CICM’s operations, their objective is simple: to allow the poor to borrow. “We are not capitalists, we make banking human,” the president of CI-CM, Georges Coudray, who came to Niger for the opening of the bank, said. It will cost around 3,000 CFA francs to open a bank account and all banking operations are free.