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Commercial Micro-Finance Gains Trust in D.R. Congo


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced Tuesday, it is giving $29 million to a German micro-finance bank's Africa division. In Kinshasa, Franz Wild looks at the success of its Democratic Republic of Congo operations.

Dozens wait in ProCredit Congo's main Kinshasa branch to open a bank account. Unlike other banks in Congo, anyone can open a bank account, without needing thousands of dollars to do so. And, there are no charges when they withdraw their money from the bank with the only cash machines in Congo.

ProCredit Congo General Manager Oliver Meisenberg says the bank supplies accounts and credit to the poorest people in the country.

"It's for both. It's for the credit side," he said. "We're pretty much the first bank which gives credit to micro-small and mini-size enterprises and anyone can open a bank account with us. Why do we do that? The answer's pretty simple. It's our mission."

ProCredit is owned by several institutions -- both public and private. Although they need to be profitable to satisfy their shareholders, they also have another goal.

"Micro-small and medium-sized entrepreneurs is where you strengthen the economy of a country. That's where most of the work is being created. Here in Congo, for example, 80 percent of the economy is with the informal sector," he said.

That may be what explains that, within less than a year and a half of opening its doors in Congo, it manages roughly half of the country's active accounts.

Coiffeuse Jolie Loabese runs a small salon in Kinshasa. She has asked for $2,000.

She says she just wants to improve her shop, by buying new equipment and hair products.

Micro-credit is the only way in which she can raise enough capital to significantly expand her business.

Democratic Republic of Congo is still picking itself up from five years of war, which ended in 2003, after nearly four million people died, mainly of disease and starvation.

Development and reconstruction will be major goals for the new government, when it is named over the next few days.

ProCredit's credit officer has come to Loabese's salon for an inspection, to see whether her income can justify a loan.

If so, she will join ProCredit's more than 2,500 other loan holders in Congo.

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