Cameroon: Credit Union Loans Help Small Businesses Prosper (1995)

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   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.
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                 From Metals to Fashion:
     Credit Union Loans Help Small Businesses Prosper 

     A report from the World Council of Credit Unions

Life in Cameroon has not been easy in recent times. Severe
financial and political upheavals had become almost commonplace.
But its people are resilient, and so, too, is their credit union
movement. Thanks to assistance from three World Council of Credit
Unions projects from 1976-1992, membership has more than doubled
from 35,000 members in 1976 to the most recent figure of 78,500.
The increase in savings (US$2.6 million to US$36 million) and
loans (US$1.6 million to US$20.5 million) during this same period
further evidences the dramatic growth of the movement. 

It is the personal stories of credit unions and their members,
however, that give the truest measure of credit union success in
Cameroon: credit unions like Azire Cooperative Credit Union and
two of its members, Solomon Takoh Anye and Joan Kombowo.

     A Rough Start

Anye started his metal works business in Mankon Town 14 years
ago. His company, SOTAMEC, produces window protectors, metal door
frames, shutters, gates, beds, and metal carriages for transport
vehicles, as well as iron bending works at construction sites.
Kept afloat only with family funding for the first five years of
operation, the business could barely stay out of the red.

A loan from the credit union, however, changed the fortunes of
the business and its proprietor. The loan provided the first
major operating money to buy the necessary materials for
contracting. Since that first loan, SOTAMEC has received five
other loans from the credit union, the largest of which was for
about US$ 10,000.

With the income generated from projects and contracts, Anye has
been able to build a new workshop and home, and he now employs
three assistants and two apprentices. "I could not have gone
anywhere without the credit union," Anye declares. 

He has saved about US$ 1,700 and is regularly paying off his
outstanding loan balance, despite the deteriorating economic
depression in Cameroon. "The credit union is a good place to do
business, as the people there are friendly and understanding. I
have introduced many of my friends and some business associates
to the credit union and hope to see my children join someday,"
said Anye.

     Another Benefactor

Kombowo, the matriarch of a family of eight and an enterprising
business woman, found her way to Azire Cooperative Credit Union
because someone like Anye only had good things to tell her about
the benefits of joining. Her beginning saving was US$ 95 and by
regular deposits over the years she now has a balance of about
US$ 1,860. She also has borrowed several times from the credit
union with the help of guarantees from friends.

She has used the loans to build a house and to finance her
growing Bamenda Market trading stall where she sells west African
ladies fashions from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Holland. Her last
loan of US$ 3,000 has been reduced by regular payments to about
US$ 1,4000.

"Without the credit union, I would not have been able to cope
with life," Kombowo said, "I'm putting four children through
private secondary and high school and three through primary
school. How can a woman like me have managed without a friendly
institution like the credit union to encourage me through?" 

     Future Growth

Both Anye and Kombowo look forward to the day when their credit
union can provide checking, foreign exchange, and money transfer
services, which will permit them to withdraw money at anytime
without having to apply for a loan. That day may not be as far
off as once thought because the credit union is in the early
stages of computerization. For Anye and Kombowo, such an
improvement may mean that someday they will be able to transact
all of their financial affairs at the financial institution which
they trust--their credit union. 

     The information was provided by Abraham Ndofor, 
     World Council's credit union development officer 
     for Africa. Gigi Hyland, a U.S. Development Educator, 
     wrote the story.

For more information on the activities of the World Council of
Credit Unions, contact:

          World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU)
          PO Box 2982
          Madison, WI 53701, USA
          fax + 1 608 238 8020