One of the oldest refugee settlements in Africa gets new banking services for the first time

Mayukwayuka refugee settlement was established in Zambia in 1966 to host refugees fleeing from Angola's civil war. For the first time, banking services are now available in the camp thanks to the entrepreneurship of a former Angolan refugee.

Mayukwayuka, Zambia - Banking services have for the first time come both to Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement and the local integration resettlement scheme in Kaoma District of western province in Zambia, thanks to the business acumen of an enterprising former Angolan refugee.

The pioneer of the first banking service is 59 year-old William Ngonga Kasoka, a self-made businessman, who, according to the rural standards of this remote area of Mayukwayukwa, could be deemed one of its affluent residents.

“I fled Angola’s Moxico Province for Zambia with my parents, brothers and sisters in 1966 when I was only eight years old,” recounts Ngonga. “We were amongst the first people to settle in this settlement. I have lived here almost my entire life - for 51 years” explained Ngonga.

Mayukwayukwa Settlement was officially opened by the Government of Zambia in 1966 to initially host Angolan refugees fleeing the civil war. Now the settlement hosts other nationalities like Congolese, Rwandans, Burundians, Ugandans and others.  

Ngonga, who has just been formally locally integrated, is providing financial services as an agent of the Zambia National Commercial Bank, ZANACO, one of the three biggest commercial banks in the country.

Refugee settlements are among the most financially excluded - in terms of banking - rural communities in Zambia due to their remoteness, restricted freedom of movement of refugees and limited accessibility by outsiders.

The nearest bank is about 90 kilometres away in Kaoma town, under which Mayukwayukwa falls, or over 200 kilometres away in Mongu, the provincial capital of the Western Province – where there are a cluster of banks.

“I am proud to be the one who is helping to bring, for the first time, this community closer to such services," says Ngonga. “Most of these people have never banked in their lives. I hope that this initiative I have planted will germinate into a big tree as people here slowly realise the importance of banking. With this service, I am optimistic that many Mayukwayukwa residents and the surrounding community will start banking.”

Ngonga says he has been banking with ZANACO since 1984, and only started the ZANACO agency in Mayukwayukwa in 2016, and provides various banking services to his clients. The services include cash withdrawals, cash deposits, checking bank account balances, funds transfer on accounts within the bank and the opening of new accounts.

The advantage with Ngonga’s banking business is that he conducts his business within his shop or, when the shop is busy with other customers, just outside on a small table as long as there is cell phone/mobile connectivity. His clients range from refugees, former refugees, humanitarian workers within the settlement to government employees such as teachers, health, agriculture workers and others as well as low income earners amongst Zambians from the surrounding communities.

According to Ngonga, who has invested in several other small-scale businesses within the settlement, the response from Mayukwayukwa’s residents to his banking services was initially lukewarm. “Things have greatly improved,” he explains. “I have several individuals who want to withdraw cash every day, especially at the month-end. So far, 60 people - Zambians, former refugees and refugees - have opened new accounts. They sign forms here and I take them to ZANACO in Mongu to formalise opening of the accounts. At times, I run out of money in my point-of-sale machine (a small hand-held electronic gadget which uses mobile SIM card connectivity for internet banking). But since I have funds in my business account, I usually transfer some amount to continue banking transactions here,” he explained.

To open an account, one pays 50 kwacha (equivalent to nearly five US dollars), and fills in an application form. For a Zambian, the only requirement is a national ID, while refugees have to furnish a copy of their refugee card and locally integrated former refugees have to show their passport.

Ngonga, who was trained by ZANACO in the Zambian capital Lusaka, about 500 kilometres from the settlement, before embarking on this business, uses a point of sale machine provided by the bank to conduct all financial transactions. For every transaction, apart from application fee to open an account, the people do not pay anything. However, the bank gives a commission to Ngonga for every transaction undertaken.

With the help of UNHCR and partner organisations, Ngonga with other refugees and former refugees, have undergone various capacity building and skills training programmes in business and entrepreneurship over the years. He has used the knowledge gained from these trainings to boost his business ventures.

“With the training I acquired, I now run some shops selling assorted goods. I am in agriculture and run transport businesses, helping refugees and Zambians travel between Mayukwayukwa Settlement to the nearest town, Kaoma and the Provincial capital, Mongu. In the process of running these businesses, I have employed fellow and former refugees.”

There is room for some form of banking services to thrive in the two settlements and the resettlement schemes of Meheba and Mayukwayukwa. Though money supply in the two settlements is tight, the residents in the camp, resettlement scheme and surrounding areas are predominantly farmers, with seasonal agricultural crop incomes. Other are traders with small shop or government employees like teachers, health or medical personnel. Finally, there are a few humanitarian employees working for various agencies. These groups have an assured monthly income.

“As a former Angolan refugee, I am grateful to the government and people of Zambia, as well as UNHCR for allowing us to live as refugees in Zambia all these years. Am also thankful for the generous consideration to locally integrate some of us. It’s something  for which we’ll always be grateful to them. On behalf of other former Angolans, I want to assure our hosts that we’ll continue to be good members of the Zambian society living in harmony with them,” Ngonga assured.

One of Ngonga’s clients, a teacher from Mayukwayukwa Secondary School who was found using the service expressed happiness that financial transactions could now be done within the settlement. "It is very convenient, unlike in the past when we had to travel either to Koama and Mongu to access ATM services," he says.

Laura LoCastro, UNHCR's  Representative in Zambia noted that,  "UNHCR’s main aim is to ensure that refugees and former refugees are self-reliant through various livelihood activities in the refugee camp and resettlement scheme."

Zambia currently hosts over 56,000 refugees, asylum seekers and former refugees who reside mainly in Mayukwayuka and Meheba refugee settlements and the surrounding resettlement schemes.