June 1, 2002
MUFFA CAMEROUN ( Mutuelle Financière des Femmes Africaines)
Case study of the Finsol workshop, Cameroun
Alice Tchepannou

If we consider that finance of solidarity is a financing modality in which proximity is the priority, which in addition to providing financial support, fosters interpersonal relationships based on sharing, solidarity and the community, the advantages of capitalising existing social ties between individuals are evident.

As for the MUFFA CAMEROON (a financial mutuality for African women), it is the work of a group of intellectual women of different ethnical origins, who have decided to use their resources to provide economic and social support for women in urban environments. In 1994, they created the WINC (Women’s Investment Club).

With the technical support of a commercial concern, the Afriland First Bank (previously the CCEI Bank) and an NGO specialised in community development, the ADAF (Appropriate Development for Africa Foundation), WINC created its first project in 1998, consisting of a micro-finance structure aimed at providing financial services for women, particularly women with limited income in the informal sector, based on solidarity; since then, the MUFFA has gone on to become the property of all its members. The MUFFA has established three main objectives, which are:

-  help African women with limited income to become aware of their many strengths

-  provide a framework in which micro-entrepreneurial women can conceive and develop their projects

-  structure and channel women’s economic potential to help them to fight against poverty.

The MUFFA belongs to a vast microfinance network in rural areas under the patronage of the Afriland First Bank and the ADAF, and the MC² (Mutual Growth Communities) present in 9 of the 10 provinces in Cameroon.

Considering the difficulty of building a structure of this kind on a clan-based society in an urban environment, WINC has decided to use a much broader base, bringing together women of different ethnical and social origins and regions. Solidarity, specified in the by-laws and accepted by all the members, takes from the rich to help the poor: thus microenterprises find financing in the solidarity of the other members. This capitalisation of the “elite” mobilises both human and financial resources, reinforcing the structure and combating poverty.

The results obtained as of May 31, 2002 are as follows:

-  3 agencies in Yaundé, Duala and Bafoussam

-  nearly 2,000 members, including fifty odd associations with from 15 to 200 female members

-  a variable capital of nearly 80 million CFA francs

-  over 150 deposits mobilised

-  around 1,500 loans, of which three quarters are microloans valued at between 10,000 and 500,000 CFA francs

-  nearly 700 million loans granted from equity mobilised in relation to mutuality members

-  specific products, similar to the EPSI/SOLIDARITE programme (microloans valued at between 10,000 and 100,000 CFA francs) for women with limited and very limited income, which represent nearly half the loans and around 10% of the global volume, with special conditions.

Except for the technical (such as the lack of equipment) and financial (weak means of intervention) difficulties, the problem requiring the most urgent solution is related to defaults, a basic problem if we consider that loan activities are the driving force of an MFI.

However, urban environments are different from rural areas, where social ties are very strong. In fact, the change of conduct in cities has given rise to a new category of women who are no longer shy or afraid. This has led to the appearance of difficulties related to control of the loan portfolio, and the capacity to reach the large number of poor people who are not used to guarantees.

It has been necessary to consider the way to reach this great mass of the population, attempting to apply the social ties between members, and even more so after the population of Cameroon has rejected formal financing structures. This has been a result of the painful bank restructuring process and the bad reputation of the first saving and loan co-ops, affecting a large number of small savers, including women.

A study of their structure showed that they were represented by:

-  origin: the bamoun women of the Ndinchout and FAFNOUN (Federation of NOUN women’s associations) associations, the balessing women of the Nna Mechou and Beu’ gni associations, the Baleng women… from Yaundé

-  religion: the women from the True Church of God of Nkoldongo, the Triumphant Women from the Le Rocher de Duala Missionary Centre, the UFC (Christian Women’s Union) from Biyem-Assi… in Yaundé

-  quarter: the women from Rue Manguier, from Cité Verte... (Yaundé)

-  market: the pig sellers from the Carrière livestock market, the bayam-sellam of the Madagascar market, from the Mokolo (behind Sapeurs) market, from the Oyom-Abang market in Yaundé…

When women get together they organise themselves into associations and organise a savings account to “structure” the group.

Below are just a few of the many examples available:

-  the Ndinchout case, where 101 members with very limited income have benefited from microloans valued at between 30,000 and 50,000 CFA francs, in a total amount of 2,200,000 CFA francs, guaranteed by the association. This guarantee consists of a solidarity fund based on a compulsory weekly contribution of 100 CFA francs for all the association’s members. At the end of the loan, this fund is used to pay the different fees (loan dossier expenses, training costs, insurance) for the following loan or, if applicable, to increase social stock. Individual MUFFA members also receive aid, and when in difficulties, moral pressure is applied by the association. The last Ndinchout 2,000,000 CFA franc loan was used to finance a profit-making community project, the purchase of 150 metal chairs and cutlery, which is rented to the organisers of popular events and funerals. The social ties are so strong that they reach the village in which relatives are known, and deficiencies may lead the community to be excluded.

-  the ACAFIHA case (association of women from Cameroon with physical disabilities), co-proprietors of the “Je gagne ma vie” sewing workshop in Bastos, who have benefited from an associative loan of 650,000 CFA francs to prepare an exhibition-sale.

-  the case of the Christian women from the True Church of God of Nkoldongo (Yaundé), organised into groups to benefit from financing for their microactivities.

It is no longer necessary to show the economic and social impact:

-  over 100 loans granted to social groups and associations

-  a large number of poor women involved, due to the snowball effect

-  the 100% return rate of the loans to associations

-  A trustworthy place providing security to these women’s microsavings…

The lesson to be learned from all this is that, in the cities, social ties alone are not enough to guarantee the creation of sustainable structures. The solution is to start with a framework of solidarity, and define management mechanisms capable of reaching rural areas and making use of existing social ties. It is then possible to reach a large number of poor citizens at a lower cost and solve the delicate problem of bad debts.

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