January 18, 2012, 4:33 EST – Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
I’m exhausted this evening, so this post will be short. I truly lived the life of a loan officer today, and as a result, I’m ready for an early bedtime.
HOPE Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has had a challenging couple of months, starting with the general elections that took place on November 28. There were accusations of fraud and tampering even before the election happened, and as you’d imagine, those cries grew louder after the election.
When the results were released, the incumbent was proclaimed the winner by a huge margin, which led to violence across the country in early to mid-December. Cognizant of recent unrest in other African countries, we decided to temporarily stop loan disbursements (new and renewal loan payouts), because we did not want to put our staff and clients in harm’s way. The unrest abated just as the country celebrated the Christmas holiday, followed by several DRC national holidays. The consequence is that we’re tracking behind our disbursement schedule, and the HOPE DRC team is hustling to catch up. I rode around Kinshasa with Seguy, one of our supervisors, and Sarah Simba, our executive assistant in HOPE DRC, who helped me out with translation.
Kinshasa traffic is incredibly heavy, and the quaint Western notions of right-of-way, defensive driving, and passing on the left simply do not apply. Seguy did a masterful job of navigating the traffic without any fender benders.
We did three disbursements in different parts of the Righini section of Kinshasa. We were all ready to do a fourth, but Seguy rightfully did not feel comfortable with the group’s level of solidarity. So that disbursement will be delayed until the group members are individually and collectively comfortable with the loan amount. I was proud of Seguy for not letting our zeal for disbursements make us cut corners on underwriting. That warmed my heart. We’re making uncollateralized loans in one of the poorest countries on earth, so we can never take credit risk and underwriting for granted.
I was ragged by the end of the day, but thankful that I was there as we continued our relationships with about 50 clients.