Until today, I hadn’t heard of the supporting role which micro-credit played in the revolution in Tunisia. But one of the suicides which sparked the revolution was of a certain Rami Al-Abboudi, under the burden of debt from a micro-credit progamme.
An article in Le Monde Diplomatique, trying too hard to prove a point, even argues that:
The wave of suicides that led up to the rebellion was not symbolic politics, as is often implied in western media, but the desperate actions of young men in bottomless debt.
I wouldn’t go that far. Al-Abboudi’s suicide was a tragic footnote, mostly ignored, and debt figured only trivially in public discourse.
Still, the boundary between micro-credit providers and loan sharks is delimited in goodwill and spin. Debtors’ suicide is a classic theme; why should micro-debtors be any different?
More than 80 people have taken their own lives in the last few months after defaulting on micro-loans, according to the government.
Mylaram Kallava, 45, hanged herself from the ceiling of her mud hut in the neighbouring village of Ghanapur after she defaulted on four micro-loans amounting to $840.
The loans were taken to pay for medical treatment for her 17-year-old daughter’s appendicitis and her eldest daughter’s pregnancy, which ended in a miscarriage.
The nearest government hospitals were more than 70km (45 miles) away, forcing Mrs Kallava to seek private treatment which was well beyond her means.