In Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), few free-market publications are widely available. Starting in 2018, the Centre for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes (CDE) launched the ProLibertyWriters Project, which was designed by CDE to focus media attention on issues that will help countries in the Great Lakes region boost their scores on the World Bank’s Doing Business index. The CDE team commissioned local and international journalism and marketing experts, including Dr. Emmanuel Martin; Bill Witz of Consumer Choice Center; and Burundian, Congolese, and Rwandan journalists and bloggers who offered intensive training sessions to help writers raise public awareness about the positive impact of free enterprise and the rule of law
As a result of an ongoing investment in improving conditions for entrepreneurs in Burundi by CDE, the country’s central bank has cut refinancing and interest rates to 5 percent on loans for sectors that are enjoying economic growth. Ninety CDE-trained writers published op-eds, blog posts, and social media articles in an effort to influence public opinion and push for pro-business policy change in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. By mobilizing beneficiaries of banking services in Burundi, CDE was able to increase public interest around the issue, solidifying it as a hot-button topic in the media as well as among civil society organizations, activists, and lawmakers.
“Small and medium-sized entrepreneurs were afraid to take financing risks from banking institutions, because the cost of credit was over 10 percent,” explained Aimable Manirakiza, CEO of CDE.
Since access to credit in Burundi is traditionally difficult for small-scale entrepreneurs to obtain, Manirakiza believes this new lowered interest rate will open the door to thousands of potential business owners. “Interest rates were always considered high by potential entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneurial activities, especially those run by women or those in rural areas, remained in the drawers for lack of a bank loan.”
In addition to their success in slashing interest rates, CDE has been especially effective at marketing important issues to the general public. One of the main issues discussed through the ProLibertyWriters Project was the excessive tax on sanitary napkins for women. “From 2016 to 2018, the price of a pack of sanitary napkins increased about 34 percent,” continued Manirakiza. “The ProLibertyWriters Project was the first to point out the need to zero-tax sanitary napkins, drawing the attention of public opinion and parliamentarians to the issue.” Manirakiza says that their efforts have resulted in a community of journalists, bloggers, writers, and civil society organizations that are demanding zero tax on sanitary napkins. CDE will continue to advocate for a resolution that will make a difference for women.
Centre for Development-Great Lakes received a grant from Atlas Network to support their ProLibertyWriters Project.