Family Portraits in Salgaa

Hello, my name is Dan Cembrola, one of Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Managers. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in Nakuru and its outskirts.

Today I visited Melchzedeck at his business in the town of Salgaa, 30 kilometers west of Nakuru. Three years ago Melchzedeck was working on one of the many flower farms around Salgaa. He grew unsatisfied with his job at the time and its future prospects. Melchzedeck always had an interest in photography, so, in 2009, he retired from the flower farm and purchased a camera for 4,500 Kenyan Schillings. He had decided to go into business for himself.
Three years later, he now owns his own shop selling photographs as well as cell phones, phone cases, phone chargers and other accessories. The shop has a small studio in the back of the shop where Melchzedeck is able to take portraits and family photos. He also operates a kinyozi (barbershop) within his shop in case anyone wants to have a last minute haircut before being photographed. 
In addition to photographing individuals and families who come into his shop, Melchzedeck also travels to weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and various other gatherings to document the memories as he says. He is one of only two photographers in the village of Salgaa so his services are in high demand. 
With his next loan, Melchzedeck plans to buy printing machine. Currently, he has to travel to Nakuru to print out the photographs that he takes. Though traveling to Nakuru takes a little over an hour round trip, it is an unnecessary burden as Melchzedeck wants to be able to photograph his customers and instantly present them the photograph. Melchzedeck is optimistic about the future of his business; he rightly views the growth of the population in Salgaa as an opportunity for more weddings, graduations, and every other celebration to be photographed. 

Business in Kenya: the basics

Greetings from Nairobi! While I’m officially here for research, what better opportunity to engage with Zidisha on the ground? East Africa is home to countless Zidisha entrepreneurs and a handful of client relationship staff that I’m eager to meet during my two-month stay.
To convey the climate in which small businesses are operating, I will attempt to convey some of my first impressions. From the capital city’s central business district to packed thoroughfares bordering the Mathare slum, streets teem with commercial activity. Massive foreign direct investment pours into Kenya via multinational firms like Goodyear, General Motors, Toyota, and Coca Cola. But homegrown industry abounds, too. Public busses buzz from stop to stop amid vendors and suit-clad commuters. Flashy smart phone displays adorn Kenyatta Avenue, often alongside high-end retailers and alluring eateries. Cell phone and Internet service centers are ubiquitous, feeding a keen taste for the latest digital gadgets and gizmos.
Now, let’s take a ride outside Nairobi—home to nine of ten Kenyans. Beyond the Great Rift Valley and sweeping central highlands lies a bona fide agrarian gem. In Western province, verdant swathes unfold around each bend, unveiling the backbone of Kenya’s key export industries: coffee, tea, and sugar. The East African nation also exports more roses than any other country on earth. Toward Tanzania, cornfields pepper the corridors linking one village to the next. Major routes spanning hundreds kilometers ensure punctual, unabated trans-national delivery of goods to the Indian Ocean and other regional trading partners.
Community after community brims with welders, carpenters, and shopkeepers. Spectacular craftsmanship is a guarantee at every turn. Bumping down a road tucked into the countryside, I noticed an elderly woman seated on a rock. Before we drove out of sight, a glimpse at her right hand confirmed another conspicuous mainstay of Kenyan society: cell phones. Without a paved road in sight, a portable banking device rested at her fingertips. M-PESA (the same technology that facilitates business transactions for hundreds of Zidisha clients) is Kenya’s mobile money transfer service. M-PESA represents a paradigm shift. It leverages recent advances in telecommunications to lubricate Kenya’s economic machine, so whether you’re in Bongo, Kakamega, Nairobi, or Nakuru, one of Kenya’s 23,000 unmistakable green M-PESA agent booths is never more than a stone’s throw away. Even the most basic phones allow users to transfer, receive, deposit, and withdraw cash from anywhere in the country.

Plus, successive years of robust economic growth point to a business climate increasingly conducive to job creation. Kenya’s unemployment rate has fallen 10% since over ten years. Last week, the nationally circulated Business Daily honed in on Kenya’s bid to reach middle-income status by 2016.
Cutting-edge digital infrastructure, coupled with promising macroeconomic data, bodes well for Zidisha entrepreneurs like Julius Mburu. It puts control over financial management into the hands of business owners unsatisfied with or unable to access the traditional banking sector. That’s how microcredit empowers. It expands that portion of the population equipped to seize the reins of their own pursuits and in turn, their future. It contributes to a mindset that restores dignity and breeds self-reliance. In the coming weeks, I will undertake to see for myself the human connection that flows through every Zidisha loan.
Until then, try focusing on those aspects of life in which your action makes a difference. To the extent we are able to pinpoint and expand upon these activities, the future looks bright for all of us. 

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.

Fresh Air

Our in-country Client Relationship Manager, Achintya, recently meet up with Alex at his shop in Nairobi. Read how Alex’s Zidisha loan helped him to relocate his shop to a better location, and one that is healthier for his asthmatic daughter:

Hello lenders

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager

I visited Alex Edward Mwathi at his shop in Mbakasi area of Nairobi on Friday (2nd March). Alex has a general store, which is usually taken care of by his wife Dorcas while he works as a mason and does other odd jobs to supplement his income.

Alex earlier had a second hand garments shop in the open, next to the road. This was a make shift structure made of sheets of polythene and wood. He had to pay rent for this nevertheless and because this was not exactly a very legal setup, he also had to pay petty officials. When it rained (as it did the day I visited him) he had to pack his wares. And to top all this, his little daughter suffers from asthma and being next to the road with all the traffic and dust caused her to hurt.

Alex thus decided to rent this shop, which, with the help of Zidisha loan, he stocked. When I asked him why the shop was called ‘Alexis Mini Shop’ instead of ‘Alex Mini Shop’, he said that Alexis was more “meaningful”. This area is very crowded (and alive if I may add) and his clients all live nearby. He sells items of daily use that he buys from wholesale shops in the area. He also buys grains and sugar in bulk and repacks them in small packets to sell to his customers. He now wants to use the front of the shop to run his second hand clothes business.

Alex’s dream is to have a super market, where he can employ people and which he can run like a manager. He wants his children to study and when I asked him about this he said that he wanted them to go to college, “even university”.

I committed two tiny faux pas that I’m sure Alex wasn’t too happy about. First, I asked him if his two year old daughter was a girl or a boy (my excuse is that she was dressed in a camouflage hooded jacket and I couldn’t see her earrings) and second when I found out that his wife hadn’t changed her sir name after marriage, I showed apparent delight. Alex explained to me that she hadn’t because they hadn’t applied for the govt. certificate yet (and all this while Dorcas was shaking her head). I told her to not change it even when they do apply for the certificate. And I think she is quite determined not to. After this Alex was quite insistent that we go immediately to look at his old shop and his son’s school. No, actually he offered me a soda and I stayed a while talking to him.

4th March 2012