The banking system: “An impassable barrier”

Written by Bernard Cardinal Agré on Saturday, 01 May 2004. Posted in Banks

On May 21, 2004, a symposium organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace took place in Rome, with the theme “The Social and Economic Development of Africa in the Era of Globalization”. Here is the speech given on that occasion by Bernard Cardinal Agré, Archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

Your Eminence Cardinal Martino, President of the Council, ladies and gentlemen,

Developing Africa, the forgotten continent, a continent saturated with bad news as they say, constitutes a problem of rare complexity. And yet, the natural resources are not lacking: abundant products from the earth and from under the earth, the presence of an intellectual elite, and a noticeable economy...

This elite comes from universities and local high schools, and also from universities and important schools from the West. Many of its members won fame in Europe and America through their abilities and creativity.

These skilled and motivated Africans are ready, very often, to undertake developments in Africa. But, besides marketing problems that often act as a brake on their spirits because of very strong foreign competition, aggravated by the sacrosanct laws of globalization, these African developers usually come up against a banking system that constitutes an impassable barrier. It is customary to accuse the Africans of bad financial management, but there are, as in every continent, encouraging exceptions. Today, in Africa, there are good administrators, good entrepreneurs. However, how can they have access to credits, which are, everywhere in the world, an important lever of entrepreneurship and development? Banks are generally based in Europe, and are primarily at the service of these nations. Even when African entrepreneurs present trustworthy projects to the branches of these banks in our countries, they can still meet with polite or categorical refusal because of priority national interests.

One must also notice that the interest rates in force in Ivory Coast, for instance — to use the example of a country that I know well — are very high. Capital is never loaned below a rate of 17 or 20%. Who can cope with such rates, which cause the principal to double every five years? To force people to borrow credit in such conditions is not at all encouraging. One must also note that most often, banks take no risk at all, for before lending money, they demand such guarantees that cover the capital borrowed. This system must be reviewed and corrected if one wants to give good people the chance of transforming on the spot, in our own country, raw materials that we pride ourselves of being the first or second producers in the world, and give them an increase in value. Africa seems tired of being only a producer of raw materials.

I invite all those who can contribute to bring to this state of affairs a more humane and profitable solution, to give one another a helping hand, to help Africa take charge of itself.

When one talks about Africa, it would be a good thing to go beyond ideological talks, and move to concrete commitments. Talks keep the Africans in underdevelopment, and even make them downgrade. Real commitments free them and make them true partners. This way, western nations and Africa will no longer have the relationship of a horse and a rider — Africa always being the horse — but relationships of mutual respect and effective friendship. Thank you.

Bernard Cardinal Agré

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Bernard Cardinal Agré

Bernard Cardinal Agré

Bernard Cardinal Agré, Archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: