The panel focuses on the myriad forms of credit and debt relations in urban Africa, which (have) existed before and/or alongside the recently introduced microcredit loans. What do these practices of borrowing and lending tell us about African urbanity, urban citizenship, and rural-urban relations?
In the past two decades, microcredit has become an integral part of the international discourse of development and poverty alleviation. Microcredit programs present themselves as providing poor people with a way out of poverty. Most famously, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus stated in Banker to the Poor that if the poor were given access to financial services, they would become productive and find a way out of poverty. The World Bank and a host of non-governmental organizations have embraced this portrayal of microcredit as a new and revolutionary means to alleviate poverty, not only in Yunus's country of origin, Bangladesh, but in all regions of the global south including in African countries. However, myriad forms of credit and debt relations existed in African societies from precolonial through colonial up to postcolonial times. These practices of lending and borrowing goods and money have been rendered silent by the international discourse of development, which creates the impression that there was no or little provision of credit in precolonial, colonial and early postcolonial Africa. The convenors of this panel invite scholars to challenge the view of credit as a fundamentally new force in Africa and the portrayal of informal workers as entrepreneurs in the making, whose economic potential can be set free by the provision of credit facilities. We aim to inquire what these understudied, yet long-standing practices of borrowing and lending tell us about African urbanity, urban citizenship, and rural-urban relations in Africa.