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Credit Between Cultures

Credit Between Cultures: Farmers, Financiers, and Misunderstanding in Africa

Parker Shipton
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Credit Between Cultures
    Book Description:

    Parker Shipton brings a variety of perspectives-cultural, economic, political, and religious-philosophical-and years of field experience to this fascinating study about people who borrow and lend in the interior of Africa. His conclusions challenge the conventional wisdom of the past half century (including perennial World Bank orthodoxy) about the need for credit among African farming people.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16292-9
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: A Golden Pendulum
    (pp. 1-16)

    If you tour the United Nations buildings in New York, you will see a gold pendulum in the front lobby of the General Assembly building, where the tour probably begins. Suspended on a wire from an enormously high ceiling, the great shining ball seems to move by itself, propelled by the wobble of the earth. The needle traces in the air a path that always returns to a point just next to the one it reached on the last pass. Gradually, one swing after another, it moves around in a circle, etching a daisy-like figure—and eventually begins its circle...


    • CHAPTER 2 Context for Credit: A Setting at the Source of the Nile
      (pp. 19-35)

      Any study purporting both to describe a particular geographical setting at a particular time and to identify some truths of broader application has got to lay out a bit of context, if only to round out the feel. I begin by describing the people and some of their neighbors in the part of western Kenya where most Luo live, and where I have lived among them as their guest for extended sojourns.

      Western Kenya and the Luo people, for most readers, have needed less introduction since 2008 than before. Before, that is, a period of civil strife over a Kenyan...

    • CHAPTER 3 Three Faces of the Loan: Charity, Usury, . . . and Fantasy
      (pp. 36-52)

      The days when an explorer, a lender, or for that matter a scholar could approach a setting in the middle of Africa as a tabula rasa, and expect to get away with it, are gone. This chapter takes brief note of some historic discussions of borrowing, lending, and indebtedness to give some idea of the repertoire of ideas from afar that Luo, other Kenyans, and others in the lake basin have had at their disposal—and contributed to—whether as people of a former British colony, now part of the Commonwealth, or just as people of the world. A glimpse...


    • CHAPTER 4 Plans and Dreams: An Integrated Approach on Paper
      (pp. 55-64)

      By about 1973, the quickly expanding World Bank had become the planet’s largest creditor for agriculture.¹ This was a role its leadership accepted and touted. Bank president Robert McNamara committed the agency—and was pointing other aid agencies the way—to what he called the “new direction” for international aid. Poverty alleviation had become the central ostensible aim, and the “small farmer,” then most often represented as an individual male family head, was the point man. This was the era of hands-on involvement, the era of reaching out by those who deemed themselves on top to those they deemed on...

    • CHAPTER 5 Lenders and Lineages: Nepotism as Loyalty
      (pp. 65-79)

      Who gets government loans is always a political issue, whether on a large scale or small. Where credit is subsidized, there will be competition for it, and it will be given out as a favor. Both borrowing and lending will be coveted as privileges, and the patterns of distribution are likely to reflect this. That is how it was for the IADP-SPSCP in Kenya. The following few pages describe how loans in that project were conveyed to the western Kenyan countryside and handed out—who got them, who did not, when, and why. In the process, we come across happenings...

    • CHAPTER 6 Untying a Package Deal: Borrowing Green Revolution Technology
      (pp. 80-101)

      Most internationally financed credit reaching Kenyan farmers has come to them not as money but as a mix of wanted and unwanted materials, accompanied by wanted and unwanted advice. Having seen something of how this pattern evolved, and whom it can connect, we look now into the nature of that mix to understand a hinge—a squeaky hinge—between the financial and material worlds. Financiers, agronomists, and farmers all used trial and error in their different ways to assess the usefulness of new inputs for what they variously understood to mean development. The perennially imperfect communications involved contain lessons about...

    • CHAPTER 7 Debts and Dodges: The Moral and the Hazard in Repayment
      (pp. 102-118)

      Moral hazard” is how international aid financiers speak of willful loan defaulting. The phrase, like the termdefaultitself, tells no more about borrowers than about lenders, who seem to claim by it an ethical ascendancy. Moral hazard seems always to refer to borrowers, never to lenders themselves. More deeply implicit is an assumption about relative responsibilities: that failure to repay a state agency or international bank hundreds or thousands of miles away is to be judged good or evil in isolation, not in relation to other claims on a borrower’s resources. Intimacy or social distance between borrower and lender...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 8 In a White Elephant’s Shadow: Reversal and Repetition
      (pp. 119-134)

      It is a curious paradox of credit, and of tropical farm credit in particular, that both borrowers and lenders can end up feeling burned. So they did in Kenya—but for only for a while, and not unforgivably. The great irony about the IADP-SPSCP is that a project with such a grand and ambitious design, so encompassing in its administrative sweep, so precise in its specifications—ended up passing out of existence in such a quiet, amorphous way, dissipating like a giant cloud.

      This chapter sums up the IADP-SPSCP experience. It then goes on to discuss some aspects of that...


    • CHAPTER 9 Wildfire: Tobacco Contract Farming
      (pp. 137-155)

      Of gold-tipped cigarettes, Oscar Wilde’s character Lord Alfred Rufford quips in a play: “They are awfully expensive. I can only afford them when I am in debt.”¹ The remark offers wry insight into the psychology of the habit-forming act called borrowing. Humans sometimes consume with more abandon, as Wilde noted, when they feel that their accounts are hopeless—and that what they are consuming is someone else’s, not their own.

      And what about when they produce? Must indebtedness incline borrowers to reckless abandon, or does it sometimes lead instead to habits deemed more virtuous, such as hard work or perhaps...

    • CHAPTER 10 Self-Help and the Underground: Individual Incentive and the Group Guarantee
      (pp. 156-178)

      The more cumbersome and self-serving the public bureaucracy, and the more rapacious or uncaring the profit-seeking corporation, the greater the intuitive appeal of a third option for organizing development or poverty alleviation across national or cultural boundaries.

      Private aid agencies, or philanthropics, of most kinds are sparser in rural areas than in towns and cities, and deep in Luo farming country one who stayed around home could go a long time without encountering any of their representatives. But the influence of one or another is felt most everywhere, through churches, schools, clinics, enterprise schemes, or countless other projects and programs,...

    • CHAPTER 11 Self-Help with Help: Banking Between Charity and Usury
      (pp. 179-209)

      Beliefs about finance and economy, like some other beliefs, can grow to take over human thought and experience, but they can also pop like soap bubbles, party balloons, or old-style hydrogen blimps. This chapter discusses, in shortest form, a boom and a bust in banking—a boom so big, with a credit flow so pervasive, it reached into the smallest pile of tomatoes in the smallest marketplace; a bust so precipitous it brought into question some of the firmest faiths and deepest assumptions about markets.

      The boom and bust were not just a single movement and reversal, though, where the...

    • CHAPTER 12 Crossing Back: Rethinking Credit Between Cultures
      (pp. 210-246)

      Some things shrink as we grow. As an adult, I revisited the golden pendulum in the U.N. Plaza that had so captivated my friends and me when we were young. It looked smaller. No longer suspended over a wide dish of sand, it swung on a shorter wire, in mid-air, above a horizontal metal ring overhead. A leaflet informed visitors it was made of not gold but only a plated iron-copper alloy. It also stated that the pendulum’s movement was aided electromagnetically by a current through the metal ring. Like the grand hopes of international aid for development, the pendulum...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 247-298)
  11. References
    (pp. 299-320)
  12. Index
    (pp. 321-335)