The Ghanaian economist George Ayittey compares two generations of Africans in his TED talk – ‘the hippos’ and ‘the cheetahs’.
According to Ayittey, the hippos represent the ruling elites in countries like South Sudan who are quite happy to perpetuate the status quo, relying on the steady flow of aid to prop up their lavish lifestyles instead of equipping the people to climb out of poverty. On top of this total demotivation to address the needs of the people, Ayittey condemns the epidemic of widespread corruption:
‘The richest people in Africa are heads-of-state and ministers, and quite often the chief bandit is the head-of-state himself. Where do they get their money? By creating wealth? No. By raking it off the backs of their suffering people. That’s not wealth creation. It’s wealth redistribution.’
So where do the cheetahs come in? Ayittey gives this name to local people who are taking steps to alleviate poverty by using traditional skills and industries to build the economy from the bottom up. One such person is Mama Emma, a mother of five who owns a bakery in Juba, South Sudan. Mama Emma started her business with a loan of 3,000 SSP from Manna Microfinance and now makes a monthly profit of 15,000 SSP which she uses to provide for her family. Despite the harsh economic crisis in the country, her business has continued to grow.
Women who receive loans through Manna Microfinance join a group (Mama Emma’s is called Victory) in which they attend business training and can support each other financially if they experience difficulties in their businesses. These groups are often also a source of encouragement and pastoral support for Manna members. Mama Emma is very positive about her experience in Victory group:
‘God is with us, we started with very little as a group and each one of us has grown with months.’
Manna Microfinance has continued to support women in South Sudan throughout the ongoing conflict; it is amazing that 96% of these women can still repay their loans on time despite the economic crisis. Currently, Manna Microfinance is supporting 192 women in Juba and all of them are active in business and borrowing. Including family members, over 1,300 people now benefit annually from the work of Manna. Mama Emma is one of few amongst these women still hopeful about the recent South Sudan peace agreement:
‘I know, when peace finally comes in South Sudan, women will benefit, and the economy will be strong again.’
We continue to pray that Mama Emma’s confidence for the future will materialise into a reality of peace, progress and reconciliation. Until then, the cheetah generation of South Sudan must be encouraged and equipped to keep building a future for themselves and their families.