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Microlending to create jobs in Senegal

Fishermen at Hann

KAI RYSSDAL: In Senegal, West Africa, the unemployment rate is almost 50 percent. That means every other person walking down the street doesn't have a job. It also explains, in part, why tens of thousands of Senegalese are trying to get out. They climb into rickety wooden boats and set out on the eastern Atlantic Ocean for Spain's Canary islands. And from there hopefully to the European mainland. Stopping Senegalese at sea is difficult. And expensive. So Europeans are hoping small loans will deliver big results. Jordan Davis reports on microcredit.


JORDAN DAVIS: In a crowded, two-story labyrinth of colorful fabric and buzzing sewing machines, Aminata Seck points out a stack of folded fabrics.

Seck says now she's starting on new orders, 20 or so outfits for pilgrims leaving for Mecca in a month. Her small, rented workspace flows out into the walkway. The machines placed outside are a form of advertising.

Seck says if you have a lot of machines, clients will give you more orders to fill. She's going to have to hire 10 more people to get the job done. She'll also need to buy the fabric up front. And for that she frequently needs hundreds, sometimes a few thousand dollars.

She doesn't have far to go to get the money. In her building, past the piles of fabric scraps, a sort of credit union has set up shop.

Director Saidou Cire Guisse says you have to have money to make money. And many Senegalese don't have access to cash to start or grow a business.

Guisse says big banks are funded with foreign money and their conditions for lending are too difficult for regular people. But his credit union, based on deposits from local businesses, will make loans as small as $200.

GuissA© says his credit union was founded about a decade ago, when some returning Senegalese started lending to spur economic development. It was one of the first in the country.

Recently, several European countries also got in the act, offering tens of millions of dollars for microloans. The idea is that if there are jobs here, Senegalese won't be heading to Europe in search of work.

Bertrand Boisselet with the French development agency says he's not sure microfinance will stop people from getting on a boat tomorrow, either.
BERTRAND BOISSELET:"Emigration, for the moment, is a political issue, a short-term issue. And microfinance and other development topics are long-term issues. It's a long-term solution, but politicians they want short-term solutions, you know that."

Dakar's fishermen want a short-term solution too. At the Hann Fish market, fishmongers haggle over a pile of tuna in the sand. Young men and boys wade ashore balancing crates on their heads. The latest catch fresh from the "pirogues"— the same wooden boats that set sail for the Canaries all summer long.

It seems almost everyone here knows someone who has made the journey.

Eighteen-year-old Mamadou Diop sits on the edge of his colorful pirogue. With his face to the ocean, he says he has two older brothers who left for Spain. Diop says fisherman can make either $10 a day or nothing. But he says for the real money you have to go to Europe. Diop says he plans to follow in his brothers' footsteps in a few years.

He says he wants to live a normal life and help his parents. But he also has dreams. And they are a powerful motivator. He wants to build a big house, and then have a beautiful car.

So that way when you go to see the neighbors, he says, they know that you have money and you've done a lot with your life. But here there's nothing.

Big houses and fancy cars. It's a dream even microcredit can't finance.

In Dakar, Senegal, I'm Jordan Davis for Marketplace.

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