A Brief History of the Recent Political Situation in Senegal

Recently, unrest in Senegal has caused several Zidisha borrowers to undergo extenuating business circumstances. Many lenders may not be familiar with the current political situation in Senegal. So I thought it would be beneficial to offer a brief history of recent developments in Senegalese politics.

Current Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, of the Senegalese Democrat Party (PDS), has been in office since winning in a second round election in 2000. After two terms, President Wade is seeking an unprecedented third term as President, despite wide spread political unrest.

Initially, presidential terms in Senegal were limited to seven years. In 2001 Senegal adopted a new constitution, this limited presidential terms to 5 years. However, this new standard would not be put into place until President Wade’s first term was over in 2007.

President Wade

President Wade successfully won his bid for a second term as president on October 15, 2006. By successfully winning the majority during the first round, President Wade avoided a runoff election. The main opposition party to the PDS, the Rewmi Party, led by former Prime Minister (formally under President Wade) Idrissa Seck, and other presidential candidates from minority parties, disputed these results and ultimately boycotted the elections to the National Assembly (Senegalese equivalent to the U.S House of Representatives), and the Senate. President Wade was eventually sworn in for his second term on April 3, 2007.

In July 2008, the Senegalese National Assembly reversed the five year presidential term limit back to seven years. This would not take effect during President Wade’s second term as president. It did however, open the possibility of Wade running for a third consecutive term.

On September 17, 2009, it was announced that President Wade was indeed seeking a third term as president. On January 27, 2012 the constitutional amendment, sought by President Wade, was approved by the constitutional congress, allowing him to run for a third term. This announcement brought widespread political unrest, and counter-protests by those loyal to President Wade, deepening political divisions in the country. The presidential elections took place on February 26, 2012. Incumbent candidate Wade won the majority of votes, but not the majority needed to avoided a runoff election. The runoff election between President wade, and second place finisher Macky Sall, are scheduled to take place on March 25, 2012.

During this time of unrest, many Zidisha borrowers have been having a difficult time. Protests are preventing some of our borrowers from conducting business as usual, severely reducing their income. Others, in areas away from the protests, are also experiencing slower sales, which are attributed to fear of further political unrest and the potential for violent protests. We continue to monitor the situation in Senegal, and hope for the unrest to settle after the results of the runoff election are announced and verified. We will continue to update the Zidisha community on the situation in Senegal.

The Next Bill Gates

Aissatou TraoreAissatou Traore is a borrower living in Dakar, Senegal. Madame Traore is a widowed mother  who works to support her son and mother. Mme. Traore is a partner with the American company Forever Living, based in Arizona. Forever Living sells its aloe vera, and various other health products, through a network of independent distributors across the globe. Madame Traore sells the Forever Living products in her surrounding area to a number of customers.

Mme. Traore used her Zidisha loan to purchase $780 worth of inventory from Forever Living in order to boost her income. Tragically, thieves broke into  her home and stole all of the inventory she’d purchased. This did not stop the resolute Mme. Traore.

Read more about Madame Traore from Zidisha’s own Director Julia Kurnia, who recently wrote about their meeting in Senegal.

Dear all,

I was fortunate to have the occasion to meet with Madame Traore at the Senegal headquarters of Forever Living, a direct selling company that produces aloe vera and other natural health products. Forever Living is based in Arizona, but markets its products through a worldwide network of tens of thousands of independent distributors, including Mme Traore.

Mme Traore is the sole breadwinner for her elderly mother and fourteen-year-old son, who she hopes will have the chance to go to university in Europe or the US someday. She has a genius for marketing, and our conversation soon turned to the benefits of her products. She gave a riveting presentation, skillfully weaving international statistics, personal experience and client success stories into a mesmerizing narrative that left me thoroughly convinced that aloe vera toothpaste is, after all, a must-have staple of good oral health. 

Mme Traore used her Zidisha loan of $780 to purchase a large inventory of Forever Living products, which ought to have boosted her earnings substantially. Unfortunately, most of the inventory was lost to a thief who broke into her home and stole her stock before she had the chance to sell it. Completely out of money to buy new stock but undeterred, Mme Traore contacted her best clients one by one and offered a deal: she would give them a special discount if they would agree to pay in advance for the products, rather than upon delivery. She used the advances to restart selling, at a profit margin that was razor thin due to the discounts. She makes up for the narrow profits with volume: her notebook contains the names of several hundred clients, many of whom are located in rural villages a day’s journey from Dakar city. On the days she “goes into the bush” to deliver her products to the villages, Mme Traore wakes up at four in the morning to prepare the day’s meals for her fourteen-year-old son, and returns home as late as one o’clock the following night. This strategy has enabled Mme Traore to slowly reconstitute her working capital, while also making regular repayment installments on her Zidisha loan, which is now 78% repaid.

She seemed completely undeterred by all of these obstacles. By way of explanation, Mme Traore cited the example of Bill Gates: he started on a small scale as well, and she is simply doing the same. She is a voracious reader. On the day we met, she was reading a French translation of “The Leader in You” by Dale Carnegie. Mme Traore said she was inspired by Mr Carnegie’s idea that there is a “mine of gold” inside each one of us, and that the best way to fully realize our potential is to develop our own business. She values her freedom, and says that nothing can stop her from reaching her ambitions.


Julia Kurnia
Director, Zidisha Inc.

Future Plans…

Ouréye Faye is an entrepreneurial mother from Dakar, Senegal. She not only supports her three daughters and her son, but also the families of her brothers and sisters. Being the oldest member of her family carries many responsibilities! Mrs. Faye studied dressmaking, knitting, and embroidery, she earned degrees for each. After receiving her degrees she started her own sewing company making boubous (see picture).

Our in-country Client Relationship Manager, Stephen, recently wrote about his meeting with Mrs. Faye. Read about their encounter below:

Hello Lenders,

Friday, I had a wonderful experience with Oureye Faye. She apologized for not finishing her last payment sooner but wants to thank the lenders from the bottom of her heart for everything that she has been able to accomplish with this loan. 

From the 400,000cfas loan that she received with the help of Zidisha, Madame Faye was able to buy a new sewing machine which she uses for her booba making business that is a very popular industry in Dakar. She buys her fabric from Mali because it’s the best quality and she makes boobas and sells the rest of the fabric in Senegal. She now has three sewing machines

Madame Faye has also used her money to invest in education. In Senegal, the public education system has a reputation for not being the most efficient in terms of quality and outcome. With the funds Madame Faye has earned, she has been able to put her 4 children through private school. Even though Madame Faye is married, she is the main provider of her household. She explained to me that every morning she wakes up at 5 a.m. and works until 9 p.m. The majority of her earnings are for her children, her main priority. However, she also pays for the gas bill. Even though Madame Faye is married she is obligated to work like most women in Senegal because consistent salaries are not guaranteed. One works today and possibly tomorrow.

Future Plans 
For a future project, Madame Faye explained that she would to love buy a glass door and some furnishings to organize her shop and display her work. This will also enable her to work very close to home. She has big plans for this project and is ready to take her business to the next level. 

Client Relationship Manager Intern

Old Friends

Ndeye Bineta Sarr is a wife and mother of three children from Dakar, Senegal. We have many borrowers from Senegal. However, Ndeye has the unique distinction of being the very first borrower to have her loan financed through Zidisha! Madame Sarr used her loan to buy a sewing machine that is able to embroider using larger types of thread. Allowing her to craft the beautiful boubous (See picture to the right) that many women in Senegal wear everyday. With her loan, Madame Sarr was also able to hire an assistant, and plans to produce mens’ boubous in the future. Our Director, and Founder, Julia Kurnia met with Ndeye just yesterday. Despite being robbed, dealing with power outages, and having her building demolished, Madame Sarr is striving! Read about Julia’s meeting with Ndeye below:

Dear lenders,

I’m Julia, director of Zidisha. I was fortunate to be in Dakar, today, and took advantage of the occasion to visit our first client in Senegal, Madame Ndeye Bineta Sarr. 

Madame Sarr met me at the edge of the paved road, and even though it was the first time we met she greeted me as affectionately as an old friend. As we wound our way through the dusty dirt paths of her neighborhood, she introduced me to various local households who had benefited indirectly from her business: a cloth dealer in the nearby market, a little boutique stacked high with reels of yarn in every imaginable color, and a small sewing shop to which she sometimes outsources less specialized aspects of clothing manufacture. 

West Africa is famous for its vibrant traditional clothing, and many women in Dakar make a living from sewing traditional dresses. Yet in this competitive market, Madame Sarr has carved out a niche for herself thanks to sheer artistic genius. Her creations never fail to turn heads: multicolored skirts sparkling with embroidered stars, hand-knitted lace, and overlapping layers of transparent gauze, imposing folded headdresses with brightly dyed cloth tied in the shape of flowers, necklines in every imaginable geographic shape. Clients fortunate enough to own one of her outfits guard it for special occasions, and when they put it on appear to float above the rest of us in this world, suddenly immune to the billowing clouds of red dust and car exhaust that choke the air. If she had been born in another time and place, Madame Sarr could have easily handled the royal wardrobe of the court of Versailles.

Madame Sarr’s house is constructed in the typical Dakar style: three brightly painted bedrooms alongside a small open courtyard, a separate shed for a kitchen and another for the restroom, corrugated metal roof, and a little faucet in the courtyard which provides the household’s only running water. The whole place was irreproachably clean and Madame Sarr’s artistic touch could be seen in the potted flowers and colored tiles decorating the courtyard. In all some thirty people – including Madame Sarr’s mother, siblings, nieces and nephews, and her own three children – live together in that house.

Madame Sarr used capital raised from Zidisha to buy an electric sewing machine, rent a boutique workshop, hire an employee, and establish a working capital fund that allows her to fill up to a dozen client orders at a time (up from one or two at a time before her first loan). This has allowed her to increase her income dramatically, making her the main breadwinner for her household and allowing the family to invest in public school education up to the university level for Madame Sarr’s children, nieces and nephews. 

Madame Sarr suffered a setback earlier this year when the building housing her workshop was demolished. She adapted by lending the sewing machine to her employee who uses it to assemble outfits that are cut and embroidered by hand by Madame Sarr in her home. Madame Sarr intends to open a new workshop soon. She certainly has no shortage of clients. When asked how she advertises, she laughs and says she simply dresses herself and her children in her creations and waits for people to inquire where in Dakar they can go to buy such extraordinary outfits.

A Warm Welcoming..

Fatou Tall is a 24 year old medical student living in Dakar, Senegal. She pays for her tuition by selling cosmetic products including cologne, perfume and other bathroom products. She does all this while running a chicken coop from her home. She is quite the go-getter! After graduating she would like to sell medical products. Fatou used her Zidisha loan to buy stock for her business and has already payed 86% of her loan back!

                                                                         Fatou Tall

Read about her recent meeting with our interns below:

“Today myself and Cameron, another intern, met with Fatou and her family. Fatou is showing strong progress on her loan, with almost 80% of it paid off. Yesterday, she took out the last portion of it. She has sold almost all of her merchandise–consisting of jeans and women’s shoes at the moment, although she has also sold cosmetic products, blouses, and perfume.

Because she relies on the word-of-mouth of her friends to sell her products, she has found it difficult to balance her personal and business relationships but has grown a lot since the beginning of her loan and is now making her payments on time. She uses the proceeds from her merchandise to buy more at the central market in Dakar, Marché Sandaga, as well as to help support the seventeen members of her family. Currently, there are 6 other breadwinners in the family, working as vendors, accountants, civil servants, and electricians. However, she still finds it difficult to support her eight younger siblings–all of whom are in school, either secondary or university–as well as her elderly mother, and her baby nephew, Jacques Abdoulaye Tall.

When we walked into the house, we were warmly welcomed by Fatou. Over the course of the afternoon, we met her family, as well as various neighbors , and friends, one of whom, Dominque, is a fellow Zidisha borrower. We found Fatou cheerful and confident in her abilities both as a shrewd bargainer (she inventories in the enormous Marché Sandaga, no mean feat) and retailer. She proudly displayed the meager remains of her inventory, saying that she would have to restock far more quickly than she had anticipated.

Fatou is very motivated to pay off the rest of her Zidisha loan and ask for another one. She plans on using this second loan to continue building her business and supporting her family. Her long-terms plans involve renting a stall in the market next to the École Dior in order to have a home base for her increasingly lucrative and stable business, as well as a possible boutique, inch’Allah.”

A Very Good Day

Recently some of our volunteers and interns had the chance to visit Diop in Dakar, Senegal. Here is what our Zidisha team had to say about their meeting:

Last Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel and his family in their home in Parcelles Assainies, a suburb of Dakar. Gabriel graciously invited us (2 volunteers and 2 interns) into his home where we were introduced to his family. Gabriel’s wife just recently gave birth to their third child, Paul Augustin who is but one month old. They have two other children; Emmanuel who is about 6 and Georgette who is 10. 

It was a particularly opportune visit as it was while we were in Gabriel’s company that he learned that his loan had been met in full! It was extremely exciting to be with him and his family at such a joyous time. What’s more is that his brother Dominique ,another Zidisha borrower, also found out that his loan had been completed as well. Gabriel was so surprised to find out that he had earned 100% because when he had checked his status the night before he was only at 4%!

With his loan, Gabriel is now able to purchase additional merchandise specific to his clientele and will thus be able to increase his capital to support his growing family. In addition to selling alcohol, Gabriel now hopes to be able to sell meat, other deli products.

A BIG thank you to our Zidisha team in Senegal for the update on Diop!

Zidisha In Country

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We are thrilled to announce that Zidisha has been selected as an Echoing Green Semifinalist! Echoing Green is one of the world’s most prestigious social entrepreneurship awards. This year, Echoing Green received a record 3,554 applications for the 2012 Echoing Green Fellowship. Of these initial submissions, only the top 10% were chosen as Semifinalists. We would like to thank our lenders for their support… We wouldn’t have made it without you! Visit the Echoing Green blog and share the good news with friends, family, and fans.
To read more of February’s edition, click here.