Rwanda’s agaseke baskets hold promise for financial inclusion
Lining the entrance of the Kigali Convention Centre are three large baskets, known as agaseke in Rwanda’s official language of Kinyarwanda. Standing up to two meters tall and streaked in the national colors of green, yellow and blue, these symbols of the country’s rich cultural heritage tower over most of the delegates arriving for the 2019 AFI Global Policy Forum (GPF).
Each agaseke is handmade, taking 15 people four months to weave together the brightly colored strands of papyrus and bamboo. Traditionally made by women and girls, their distinct zigzagged patterns take pride of place on the land-linked country’s coat of arms as symbols of peace, unity, generosity, compassion and hope for the future of Rwanda and its people.
Woven into the fabric of daily life as vessels for food, gifts at important ceremonies and treasured items, agaseke have come to represent providing for the needs of families, the gathering of loved ones and household savings. As such, they remind the over 800 delegates from central banks, regulators and development agencies who have gathered in Kigali of their mission to make financial services accessible to untapped populations.
Aiding in this quest are local initiatives to develop the agaseke industry and export it to the wider world. In an industry dominated by women – it is mothers who frequently teach their daughters how to create the baskets –, such efforts are promoting female empowerment and entrepreneurship. For many, they are also breaking the chain of poverty.
Among them is Mukamutamu Phina, a mother of four who was struggling to make ends meet until she was approached by Kigali City to attend training on weaving baskets. After completing a three-month course, she eagerly began weaving baskets on her own for sale at the local market. They became an instant hit and Phina was invited to attend exhibitions across the country and East Africa.
Encouraged by her trainers, she opened her first bank account - something she had thought was only for “rich people”. By saving her earnings, Phina was able to obtain a bank loan to fund yet more basket-making and purchase land on which to build her family home.
“If my mindset hadn’t changed, I would never have opened a bank account or be the woman I am today,” she said. “My children can go to school thanks to the money that I earn from my basket weaving business. Some have even finished university.”
Across Kigali and beyond, initiatives are using the baskets’ popularity at home and overseas to improve the lives of marginalized groups, particularly unemployed and landless women. Many weavers have since gone on to join women’s cooperatives that not only provide access to market information but also much-needed bargaining power to bring in higher earnings.
Like Phina, agaseke has been similarly transformative for Liberata Kayitesi and her family. Before making a steady income by weaving baskets, she and her husband were farm laborers who barely eked out a living; sharing a one-room house with not only their children but also their cow.
Then, she started making and selling agaseke, setting herself the target of producing two baskets a week. Soon, Kayitesi had earned enough money to renovate her house and build extra rooms. After saving money in a newly-opened bank account, she acquired a bank loan – that she has since paid back in full – to purchase a small shop.
“Now, the cow no longer sleeps with us and we have electricity and running water at home, all because of agaseke.”
About the 2019 AFI GPF
The 2019 AFI GPF is being co-hosted by the National Bank of Rwanda under the theme of “Using Technology for Inclusion of Women and Youth”. The three-day event is the world’s most important forum for financial inclusion, gathering over 800 global policymakers, regulatory institutions and development partners to share experiences, knowledge and initiatives that have made an impact in bringing financial services to the world’s 1.7 billion unbanked.