Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo

26 June 2011 at 02:00 15 comments

By Kathrin Gerner, KF15, Togo

Check out Part 1 of this series Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo to learn more about why new roads are essential for Togo and the Togolese economy.

Lomé is under construction. In fact, all of Togo is under construction. This is what I heard when I first arrived in this small West African country two weeks ago. And it did not take me very long to find out what that meant.

Life goes on as the construction equipment rolls through the streets

Our well: Not quite as convenient as the tap, but much more reliable

Impact on Daily Life

After I had checked into my room at the guesthouse, Madame Akossiwa, the housekeeper, showed me around. “There is no running water because of the road construction. You will have to take an African shower,” she said, pointing to a bucket. Later, Nils, my housemate and intern at the German embassy, told me that the water in our neighborhood had been on and off since January.

With construction projects spread all over Lomé, the water situation in my neighborhood is no exception. And there is no telling when the water will be back. The boulevard outside my house has been caught in an “almost finished” state since my arrival. With the majority of workers pulled off this project to work on “less finished” projects elsewhere in the city, it may be a long dry spell.

Impact on Drivers

The "almost finished" boulevard: Is the lack of planning for this small detail indicative of the whole project?

“We need roads, but why start all of them at the same time? It’s a total mess,” one moto-taxi driver complains. Another driver adds, “It’s all the politicians’ fault. In Europe, this would never happen.” The frustration is understandable. After walking along Lomé’s ring road, Nils reports that only about one fourth of it is currently usable.

Most locals are convinced that the chaos is here to stay. Now that the rain season has started, work will have to stop frequently, and half-finished roads may get washed away. Pessimists believe that the construction will never be completed. The slightly more optimistic believe that it will take years.

Impact on Business and Borrowers

But road construction not only affects drivers. Many clients of WAGES, Kiva’s Togolese partner organization, are also feeling the impact.

A Togolese street vendor: Inventory on the head, baby on the back

Edith, the manager of the Agoé branch office of WAGES, tells me that the market of Agoé was completely flattened two months ago to give way to construction. Display tables and shelves that had not been hauled away in time were reduced to rubble. Vendors had to relocate and lost most of their customers, who could no longer find them. Those vendors who could not find a new place to set up shop joined the countless street vendors, balancing their entire inventory on their head while walking the streets.

Owners of larger stores and restaurants at the outer edges of the market stayed behind, but they are not faring much better. With the market gone, few shoppers now come to the area. Most business owners thought they could weather the difficult times, when they were told that work would be finished in three months. Two months into the project, however, everyone agrees that it will take much longer. Borrowers, who have been using their savings to make payments, will start to run out of reserves soon and many may have no chance but to default.

Edith says that the case of the market is no exception. Last year, construction was started on the main road through Agoé. Since the plans called for a wider road than the existing one, entire buildings had to yield to construction. Owners were given notice about two months before the demolition started. My careful question if there had been some kind of compensation is met with mild amusement. “No,” Edith shakes her head, “they were only given notice.”

Some businesses close down, while those that stay open can only be reached with difficulty

Edith then goes on to tell me the story of Akuele, who took a FCFA 15 million (about $30,000) loan from WAGES to build a carwash with a small store in 2010. He poured concrete on his plot of land, constructed the carwash, and soon after, business was flourishing. But then notice arrived from the city that the carwash was in the way of the new road and would be demolished. Now the carwash is history. The loan, however, is not. And the profits from a few short months of operation cannot cover the payments. Only by diverting profits from his other businesses has Akuele been able to avoid default so far.

Most borrowers, however, do not have a backup. If their business is demolished, their only source of revenue, used to cover loan payments as well as daily expenses, is gone. “And the problem is even bigger than that,” Edith adds, “With the market gone and all these buildings destroyed or empty, there is a negative effect on the whole community.”

In spite of the difficulties with the current road construction projects, the prevailing opinion is that the projects will eventually improve the situation in Togo. Servais, my trusted moto-taxi driver, who skillfully maneuvers around big puddles and miniature lakes every morning to make sure I still look work-appropriate upon my arrival at WAGES, belongs to the group of eternal optimists. “Lomé will be a little Paris,” he says and smiles when I tell him that that may take a while.

Streets in Lomé are not limited to cars: On Sunday mornings at 6 AM, the runners take over!

~
Check out Part 1 of this series Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo to learn more about why new roads are essential for Togo and the Togolese economy.
~

Kathrin Gerner is a Kiva Fellow (KF15) at WAGES in Lomé, Togo. She drafted this blog series while stuck at her house during a torrential downpour and uploaded it at a café a week later, having kept her balance during the crossing of several flooded streets by way of stepping-stones after yet another heavy rain. To find out more about WAGES, visit its Kiva partner page or the WAGES website. Or show your support by lending to one of its borrowers or joining the WAGES lending team!

Entry filed under: Africa, KF15 (Kiva Fellows 15th Class), Togo, WAGES. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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15 Comments

  • […] Paving the Way to the Future (Part 1): Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo Isabukuru Nziza, ACB! A Kiva Field Partner in Rwanda Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary Say a Little […]

  • […] Paving the Way to the Future (Part 1): Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo Isabukuru Nziza, ACB! A Kiva Field Partner in Rwanda Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary Say a Little […]

  • […] Previous posts by Kathrin Gerner: Isabukuru Nziza, ACB! A Kiva Field Partner in Rwanda Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary Paving the Way to the Future (Part 1): Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo […]

  • […] Paving the Way to the Future (Part 1): Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • 5. Katy  |  24 July 2011 at 06:16

    It is common knowledge in Togo…where the land allocated for roads/government is. It is no surprise, however people want business take the risk. This car wash guy took a bad gamble. Road construction is happening. Life happens. To be able to get a 30,000 dollar loan, this guy is big businessman. He will find a way to overcome.

  • 6. zachynyoga  |  29 June 2011 at 19:00

    Hi Kathrin, great blog, I am sure the paving will benefit the area not only for transportation purposes but also for proper contaminated water drainage, helping with sickness.

    Zachary

    • 7. Kathrin Gerner  |  30 June 2011 at 06:48

      Interesting point, Zachary! Let’s just hope this construction gets finished. At the moment, the streets are even more flooded than in the pictures. Thanks for you comment and thanks for reading the fellows blog!

      Kathrin

  • 8. bertacci9Bert  |  27 June 2011 at 13:37

    Great blog Kathrin!! Looking forward to the next installment!!

  • […] the Way to the Future: Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo (Part I & Part II) Country: Togo / Fellow: Kathrin Gerner (KF15) In Part I, Kathrin explains how bad roads impact a […]

  • 11. Antoine S. Terjanian  |  26 June 2011 at 17:51

    When I was in Togo last time (in 1990) Lomé did impress me as “a little Paris”. Streets were clean and people well dressed. My visit to the countryside (in the dry season mind you0 was also very pleasant. I was pleasantly surprised by their practice of cutting-down palm trees and letting their sap ferment in their trunk for a while so they can extract alcoholic beverages. What problems does over-population and “laissez-faire” cause! The resulting encroachment on roads is evident everywhere in Africa.
    Thank you Ms Gerner for a very touching exposé.

    • 12. Kathrin Gerner  |  30 June 2011 at 06:57

      Thank you, Antoine, for sharing your experience! Lomé is actually still fairly clean overall, although I hear that it used to be even cleaner in the 90s. Thanks for you comment and thanks for reading the fellows blog!

      Kathrin

  • 13. sidetrips  |  26 June 2011 at 17:32

    When I was in Lomé about three years ago (during the dry season, so what do I know?!), there was no construction to speak of. The disruption there now is fascinating though frustrating to read about. Thanks for covering, with charm, these topics which impact so much the every-day Togolese person.

    • 14. Kathrin Gerner  |  30 June 2011 at 07:00

      From what I hear, construction first started about two years ago, when they boulevard along the beach was redone. Then some more projects were started last year and a whole lot more at the beginning of this year. Thanks for you comment and thanks for reading the fellows blog!

      Kathrin

  • […] Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo &la…  |  26 June 2011 at […]


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