Africa: Will There Be But Dragons?

A while back a really grisly cyberpunk novel comment dismissed Africa’s future as so grim it will be quarantined from the rest of the world – written off as "There Be Dragons." This pretty much describes my own POV: where else can endless war, corruption, lawlessness, and disease end? So last week, when I went to hear folks from the Village Enterprise Fund, my expectations were pretty rock bottom. But as Barbara Lamb Hall (Development Director) walked us through the organization’s focus on East Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya – reasonably politically stable (hmmm?), reasonable rule of law (except well…or well… or…), operating in less corrupt rural areas (compared to urban, governmentally impacted areas) areas and described the program (give tiny but meaningful grants for tiny but very meaningful business efforts) and wound up with the outcomes (75% of businesses are still around after 4 years), I came away feeling these people are doing something that holds out real hope for the individuals touched. I’ve long believed in the microfinance model, but have wondered about the problems of loan repayment for the extremely poor, so was very interested to hear discussed VEF’s decision to offer grants at the base level rather than requiring the poorest of the poor to repay, saying the prospect of doing so keeps many from attempting even the smallest gamble. A bit of a Silicon Valley phenomenon, VEF has been around for about 20 years, and gets approximately 70% of it funding from individuals (another thing I like). So, in the face of so much negative, thought it worth passing on this bit of the positive.