Tag Archives: History

Usury, no Interest or even Debt Relief?

According to Wikipedia “Usury is the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans that unfairly enrich the lender.” Some people went further. Historically, or rather religiously, even taking interest was frowned upon, to say the least. The image above depicts Jesus as he expells the usurars from the temple.

Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest, nor give him thy victuals for increase.” (Leviticus 25:37 in the Old Testament)

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” (Luke 6:34 in the New Testament)

“O you who believe, you shall not take usury, compounded over and over. Observe God, that you may succeed.” (Al-‘Imran 3:130 in the Qur’an)

To sum it up: usury was a no go, interest taking was frowned upon and a call for debt relief was issued in a number of ancient societies.

Debt forgiveness is mentioned in the Book of Leviticus, in which God councils Moses to forgive debts in certain cases every Jubilee year – at the end of the last year of the seven year agricultural cycle or a 49-year cycle, depending on interpretation.

Debt forgiveness was also found in ancient Athens, where in the 6th century BC, the lawmaker Solon instituted a set of laws which canceled all debts and retroactively canceled previous debts that had caused slavery and serfdom, freeing debt slaves and debt serfs.

In addition, the Qur’an supports debt forgiveness:

If the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But, if ye remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew. (Qur’an 2:280 )

(Source: Wikipedia)

But how is this related to microfinance? Interest rates lower than from informal moneylenders, suicides of credit defaulters, debt relief are just a few hints.

(photo by lds.org)

Is there Hope for Africa?

It is not correct to judge a whole continent, yet Robert Guest’s book “The Shackled Continent” has made a couple of valid points why Africa as a whole is stuck.

Some blame the climate. Most African countries are tropical. Parasites and diseases are abundant. Asia also is hot, with better growth and less conflicts.

Some blame historic Europe for the arbitrary borders, slavery and colonialism. It looks like nowadays African countries don’t touch the border situation out of fear to spark more conflicts. Slavery was existing centuries earlier than when Europeans sold Africans to America. Colonialists left some useful things in place, like roads, clinics and law. These factors cannot explain the apparent lack of success.

If these days Africans still feel inferior (what Steve Biko called “colonization of the mind”) it is pretty much unfounded on an individual level. Yet it might keep too many from reaching their full potential, especially if combined with poverty.

HIV/AIDS is another challenge ravaging in some African countries. Countries addressing it responsibly acknowledge how it spreads. Failing to do so has wiped away a generation of productive people in some countries.

Many countries throughout history proved that success and wealth is not a matter of climate, natural resources or a favorable history. Instead it is self-made and based on participating in markets for skills and goods. Cutting down on corruption and deliberate mismanagement also helps.

There are also some hopeful candidates in Africa: Botswana, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso and South Africa all are showing remarkable progress.

(photo by G.S. Matthews on flickr)

A Brief History of Tanzania

Tanzania is home to some of the oldest hominid settlements, hence the nickname “cradle of mankind”. Hominid jaw fragments unearthed by archaeologists are thought to be 3.6 million  years old. 10’000 years ago hunter-gatherers were living in the area. It lies where routes link the sea with the great lakes (Victoria and Tanganyika).

1000 years ago trade with Roman subjects must have taken place as Roman coins were found. Portuguese captured the the island of Zanzibar in 1505.  Early 18th century the Arabs took over and  traders moved inland in search of slaves and ivory. Then came the Europeans, first exploring, then carving up Kenya and Tanzania between the British and Germany in 1886.

German East Africa – as Tanzania was called back then – was a fertile land for sisal, coffee and cotton.  The tribes profoundly resented the German presence and staged attacks against them. When reinforcement from Germany arrived in 1905 it didn’t take long to brutally squash the attacks. Only it didn’t stop there: the Germans destroyed villages, fields and grains; deliberately causing a famine that killed a quarter million people.

At the onset of the First World War the British took German East Africa. After the war treaty of Versailles they obtained a formal mandate to govern it and the name was changed to Tanganyika.

In 1964 Tanzania emerged as a republic with President Nyerere implementing socialist ideas. Education was soaring while creating cooperatives brought down productivity. When stepping down after 20 years he admitted that his economic policies had failed. He had however managed to keep  tribalism out of politics and the introduction of one common language (Kiswahili) helped bridging gaps.

Recent conflicts occurred in Zanzibar due to irregularities during election, when government forces killed 35 protesters and wounded 600 in 2001.

(photo Soaring Flamingo on Flickr)