Liberia: Petty traders crucial to African economy

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Monrovia-based economic consultant Achie Bedell has urged the Liberian government under President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to boost the country’s economy by allowing women to develop their petty businesses.

Despite an initiative by the Liberian President that pushed for local economic development, including boosting people’s access to loans for business commencements, women in Liberia are still not considered loan-worthy. According to the economist, enabling women to expand their petty trade would have a powerful impact on economic growth of Liberia.

So far in the country, women who want to expand their small businesses cannot do so, as Banks in the country will not give them loans, until they (women) show land or house ownership for collateral. The situation is considered by experts as dire because, women who are small scale traders in Liberia, as well as most African countries have no houses or land of their own.

Without loans most women stick to their petty trade; and stay trapped in that economic and social class. But economist Bedel has warned that their stagnation has a long term effect on the economic growth of the country. “The government should provide the conditions for women to gain more access to credit facilities so they could easily compete with foreign merchants, who now dominate commerce in Liberia,” Bedell said.

The United Nations Development Program, revealed that illiterate women make up the majority in Liberia. However, these illiterate women, even when they have property as collateral, the loan application process still discourages a lot of them, as they must present a business plan, insurance documents, income statements and a convincing profit strategy. This trend, according to Bedell, will hinder socio-economic development considerably, in the long run.

A World Bank research released in February, 2009, claimed that most micro-finance borrowers around the world are women, and difficulty in accessing credit, combined with many other factors will make women more vulnerable worldwide, especially as the world faces a recession. In regard of the World bank report, the Southeastern Women Development Association (SEWODA) have embarked on training rural women in business development to boost their business skills.

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