Thursday, July 19, 2012

Senegalese Currency

Senegal uses the cfa; it works well as a currency. The dirty slips of paper have negligible intrinsic worth, but when you hand a bill to someone, they have complete faith that they can hand that same dirty slip to someone else and that person will see it as valuable. A loaf of bread is 100cfa, which the baker can then use to buy a box of tea. It works well.
So why is is that Senegal decided they needed a second form of currency? Or more specifically I believe this currency is an outdated monetary form that Senegal has refused to get rid of. Maybe before globalization, the rush towards development, and imposing capitalist markets this worked ok, but now I can't help but to see their second currency as only a hindrance.

Livestock. As far as I can tell, when a Senegalese person looks at a cow, or a goat, or a chicken they do not see meat, or work animals, or pets. They see money. The amount of money ranges depending on the health and size of the animal. It would also depend on your bargaining skills and the wealth of the person buying the animal, but let's say for example that a chicken is 3,000cfa, a goat is 15,000cfa, and a cow is 50,000cfa. That's what they see instead of four legs, a wet nose, a long tail, huge horns, and glassy eyes. It might at first seem like an acceptable form of currency, especially since all of Senegal seems to think this way. If you were to buy a chicken for 3,000cfa, you could reasonably imagine getting another 3,000cfa if you then sold it. There's even the advantage of being able to buy a baby goat for say 5,000cfa and later selling it for 15,000cfa once it's grown. Like the stalk market, a good investment you expect to increase in value. People do this instead of opening bank accounts. A mother will buy her daughter a baby goat to take with her when she gets married in case times get tough and she needs to sell it. Little kids will raise chickens because they're certainly not going to get an allowance. You only need to look at a man's heard of cows to know how wealthy he is. This isn't money you can touch now, it's a savings account for whatever comes up in the future.

This might seem like an intelligent and responsible way to save and even make a little money. Especially with the social pressure that comes with actually having spending money in a society like Senegal's. Except of course, one tiny little detail. Animals die. Maybe two little details: many Senegalese people do not get enough nutrients. People are so desperate to save money that they've taken livestock numbers beyond useful amounts. Usually when supply increases, all other things equal, the price goes down. In this case price cannot go down because it's a currency and people are overly faithful that a cow has a set price. The alternative, that they realize they have way more cows than they have demand for, would effectively cause their currency to lose value and create inflation. Not a great option either. But by not realizing that their cows are worth much less than they believe, there are people who are malnourished. You cannot eat a cow because then you'd be spending 50,000cfa, way more than you can afford to spend on meat, so you go without, keeping your money and your protein deficient meal. You go without, go without, go without, and then hot season comes, your cow doesn't get much food or water, and dies. Now you've lost your money and are still malnourished. This seems ridiculous, and you might think I'm exaggerating, surely they must understand and eat their meat before it dies, but this is not the case.

Whenever my parents call they laugh at the roosters crowing in the background. I could not plant a vegetable garden in my back yard because whenever I put seeds in the ground, a few hours later they'd be eaten by chickens. I used to take bucket baths in front of an audience of 4 chickens that roosted on my fence. I have never lived around so much poultry. But the number of times I have eaten chicken in village in my two years here: twice. Once the women killed a chicken, cooked it, waited until the children went to bed, and ate it. Another time I had a friend visit on her birthday and I gave money to kill two chickens for our lunch, and my host father biked two villages over to find someone willing to sell two of their chickens. Everyone else wanted to keep their “account” and refused the money. We don't eat eggs either. The only time I've eaten eggs in village was when I found 6 behind my room and cooked them myself. They all want their chickens to lay eggs that will then grow into more chickens, birthing savings accounts. A whole new meaning to nest egg (or possibly the original meaning). This might make sense, if we ever sold or ate a chicken. Instead they just die. Dogs eat them, they get old, they get diseases. I've seen my host grandmother carrying dead chickens out from her back yard, where they went to die from some disease. We've killed a few more goats and sheep than we have chickens. But of course our most expensive sheep, a ram my mother invested in and fattened up, which she was going to sell at Tabaski, using the profits to send her daughter to high school, was taken from her by my host father. He didn't have money for a ram, hadn't had the foresight to buy a small one when they were cheap before the holiday, but didn't want the shame of not eating one on Tabaski. So instead he took my host mothers and killed that for free. She of course was still responsible for finding money to send her daughter to school, which she came to me for, but ended up losing money on her livestock investment. He has yet to pay her back, almost a year later, even though he's found money to spend lots of time in Tamba and buy multiple cell phones. In this case there's not much my host mother could have done, culturally acceptable gender inequality means he'll probably never pay her back, stealing is a whole other issue. But imagine she had cash instead of a sheep. Maybe she could have hidden it. Maybe she could have had a secret bank account with a pin number he didn't know. Some women's groups have programs where they all give a small amount each week and wait for a large sum to divide it back up or rotate who gets the pot each meeting. Maybe he would have taken only a portion of her money. But with her sheep he saw it and wanted it and killed it, done.

I try hard not to judge what I see here in Senegal, it's not my culture and I can never fully understand it, but this seems to be a glaring problem with Senegalese village economics. As a former vegetarian, I am emphatically yelling: Eat more meat S

No comments:

Post a Comment