The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Soft Loans and Cooperatives Transform Lives

For quite a while, the high unemployment figures in Huye district had caused some alarm. However, as the number of Huye co-operatives has increased, the number of unemployed men and women has decreased. Alex Butabika, a resident in his early twenties, is one of the people reaping the fruits of this change.

"I used to play board games and gamble all day for a living. Most of the time I went home with totally nothing yet I was the family's breadwinner. The debts I had were too many.

"My friends asked me to join Cooperative Intambwe and register with Unguka bank so as to make a living. I personally joined just because everyone else was joining. But later I became serious and stopped gambling," Butabika says.

"We were given motorbikes by Unguka Bank on credit, and this greatly improved the lives of the seven of us that left gambling to join the co-operative. Today I can feed my family and my children go to school and don't sleep on a hungry stomach," he said.

The chairman of Cooperative Intambwe, Jean Chrisostome Habimana, said the cooperative has enabled many people, who didn't have full time employment, to enjoy a full day's work.

"Unguka bank has given business support to people in our cooperative. A while back, 21 motorbikes were handed over to our cooperative and today, the motorcyclists are slowly paying off their loans while also taking care of their families comfortably," he enthused.

Habimana added that the motorbikes are a great source of income to the motorists and tax to the government.

Manzi Nemeye, Director of Commercial Activities and Marketing- Unguka Bank, said that the establishment had managed to secure over 500 motorbikes, at a total cost of over 300 million Rwandan francs, in order to support cooperatives and associations countrywide.

He said that the motorbikes are loaned without the beneficiary necessarily providing any kind of colateral. This is because membership of a cooperative is security enough. He also revealed that the bank is in a position to provide similar support to all Rwandans in cooperatives and associations.

By tapping into the local market, Unguka Bank has since risen to become one of the biggest microfinance institutions in the country.

Established in 2005 with 214 shareholders and an initial capital of Rwf321, 100, 000, today it has more than Rwf2.8 billion in its coffers.

"Today, the bank has gained popularity. It was ranked number one in terms, best practices in the microfinance sector in Rwanda by the Association of Microfinance Institutions Industry in Rwanda. In 2009, it was awarded the overall winner, Silver Investor of the Year by the Rwanda Development Board," Manzi Nemeye said.

Nemeye adds that the walk to the top wasn't a smooth journey. The 2005-2006 microfinance crisis led to the closing down of several big microfinance institutions.

"This greatly affected us. Because there was lack of confidence in the microfinance sector, we were left with a small number of clients seeking loans." he said.

Luckily for Alex Butabika and others like him, Uguka didn't collapse but instead grows every year.

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