Precarity and Debt: The Vicissitudes of Credit and “Upliftment” in Asia and Africa

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Number of paper presentations 4


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Interventions in conflict-affected settings, and post-conflict reconstruction and development policies extensively employ “access to credit” as a way of “uplifting” families and directing them in the way of economic recovery. The papers of this panel address broad-scale policies and programmes of states and non-state actors ‘doing development’ intended to “uplift” families in war-torn regions through access to credit, and also informal, everyday practices of borrowing and lending that allow households to “roll” money. Drawing on ethnographic observation, interviews, and document and data review, the presenters peer beyond the intentions of credit. The panel members demonstrate more complicated and contradictory realities as informal borrowing takes place, and beneficiaries of microfinance and/or small-loans schemes actively engage them. Sajid Amin interrogates definition and concepts of household indebtedness in Pakistan. Amin argues that household indebtedness must be discussed in relation to ideas of “indebtedness”, “over-indebtedness” and “structural indebtedness.” He also tackles measurement of household indebtedness using quantitative survey data from Pakistan, and calls for a nuanced approach to defining and measuring indebtedness in post-conflict settings. Ihsan Ghafoori examines informal credit mechanisms and the social relationships underpinning them in selected villages in conflict-affected Herat and Nangahar Provinces of Afghanistan. Ghafoori locates local informal credit mechanisms in Afghanistan’s heavily socially embedded economy which offers relative security under conditions of conflict. Gayathri Lokuge turns her gaze towards the intervention of entrepreneurship promotion by the state and non-state entities alike in post-war Sri Lanka of which the provision of credit for enterprise is a central feature. Taking a “lifeworld” approach, Lokuge examines entrepreneurial activity, loans and “rolling” money in the finance-centric post-war economy. She points to the uneasy juxtaposition of the programmatic emphasis on “empowered entrepreneurs” and the dynamics of credit, dependency, and poverty. Teddy Atim examines indebtedness among Northern Ugandan youth, of which 80% are estimated to be unemployed. In Uganda’s slow and uneven post-war economy, young people are pushed to low-productivity subsistence agriculture and informal work, where returns on labour and capital are generally low. Atim discusses indebtedness in relation to young migrants’ livelihoods goals, aspirations and strategies in urban and rural spatialities they occupy in search of a better wage and a better life. Rose Bashwira brings attention to cycles of debt and coping strategies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in the contexts where extractive industries are central to the political economy of localities. Taken together, the presentations uncover unanticipated effects of entrenched ideas and programs intended to improve the wellbeing of families as people take them into use.

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Vagisha Gunasekara