Monday, 23 November 2009

Taking the bank to the marketplace

Saturday 21st November

We set off early from the hotel at 7am with Doug, the Chief Relationship Officer at the head office of Banco Oportunidade de Moçambique (BOM) in Maputo.

Our first stop was the Matedene market on the outskirts of the city, the location earmarked for our ‘bank in a box’ (Mini bank branch made out of a converted shipping container). As we left the central business district of Maputo the poverty for which Mozambique is known became very evident – ramshackle corrugated iron and dustbin liner clad market structures, overflowing drains, and a constant thread of crushed cans, mango skins and chicken bones lacing the roadside.

Whenever we passed markets Doug pointed out Opportunity’s competition – a mini Procredit bank branch here, a Socremo outlet there.

Doug’s eyes lit up as the dust track turned into a smooth and recently contructed road not simply because his jeep’s suspension would enjoy some light relief but because he was about to show us an exciting new banking spot for BOM. The road had in fact just been completed by the World Bank, the sure sign that more development would follow. The culmination of this particular World Bank project was the construction of a modern covered market place equipped also with two water pumps and a toilet block. Word had yet reached the villages about the facilities of this market place so many of the trading spots had yet to be filled by small businesses. It was clear looking at the much better conditions and facilities of the place that the market would soon be humming with the chatter of transaction and commerce. This is the destination for the first ‘bank in a box’. Speaking to some of the early traders in the market a bank on the spot was exactly what they were looking for – not so much for loans but as a place to safely deposit a portion of their weekly takings. Currently the nearest bank branch is a 5 kms walk away from their marketplace – a sometimes perilous journey in the dusk at the end of a working week.

Approval for the placing of the ‘bank in a box’ in this market has been slow because of the slow grinding of the cogs of the Mozambiquan bureaucracy. Bribery too is a common currency in the dealmaking process in this country – not a currency BOM is willing to handle!! After countless meetings and calls Doug says he has now found out who it is in the Municipal institutions who has sufficient authority to give the green light to these projects. After taking time to build rapport with this official he is confident they Municipality will fast track similar decisions in the future. In the end the Municipality is thrilled because in placing the ‘bank in a box’ some old market stalls will have to be pulled down and then modern replacement ones built (at the expense of BOM) – so it’s win win.

As we left Doug said I believe ‘we are on the ground floor of something very exciting here’. His passion is infectious.

There are few monuments and great buildings of historic interest save two; the Central Train Station and the house at 1960 Avenida Armando Tivane. The Central Train Station would look more in place in central Paris than downtown Maputo and in fact there is a reason for that – it was reputedly designed by Gustav Eiffel or one of his apprentices at the very least. For Doug it held a different allure it hosts an annual international fashion show and becomes the magnet for top models around the world!

Now why include a regular street address in my blog – because it is the second home of Nelson Mandela and his wife Graça Machel (the wife of the former President of Mozambique, Samora Machel). As we passed in the car we craned our necks through the spaces in the security fence to see if this modern day icon was at home. The lights were off!

On our way to lunch we skirted around Praça Robert Mugabe (Robert Mugabe Sq). I was amused to see a group of three policemen huddled on one side of the roundabout stopping 4x4 vehicles being driven by white ex-pats. Doug told us he had been stopped there every time he passed and fined arbitrarily for a fictitious traffic violation. As his workload has increased his working hours have increased so much so that he outworks the schonkey policemen!

One of the saddest legacies of war, communism and now poverty has been the chronic shortage of education opportunities for the bulk of the population. Up until 1989 there was only one University in the whole country – the Eduardo Mondlane University (named after their first post-independence President) – so only a fraction of the population ever progressed beyond a secondary education. Now there are universities in the provincial capitals, most however, are privately run and their fees are prohibitively high for people from average and below average income families. This inhibits the potential for growth in so many areas of the country.

And yet the charm, gentleness and resilience of the people we meet here fills us with a sense that when given an opportunity they will grab it and grow.

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