The “Osusu” Effect: How Gambian Women Support Each Other through the Osusu

[By Mamudou Jallow]

For many decades now, Gambian women have been known to organize themselves in groups for the purpose of contributing money in pots for one of them to take. The frequency of the contributions may be daily, weekly or monthly  until all members get their pay. This is what is known as Osusu.  

The size of an Osusu pot depends on the people contributing and for the purposes behind their contributions. Osusu teams can range from three to several dozen people depending on the situation. You have Osusu groups in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and among market women. For many women, Osusu is nothing but a micro financial enterprise to raise capital.

Gambian women have used Osusu to quickly gather funds to solve one problem or another. Here are few cases how Gambian women put their Osusu money to use.

#1.Business Capital

Some women have used Osusu to raise capital in order to start or grow their businesses. Many women have sound business ideas but not all have access to the funds needed to start a new business or grow their businesses. Over the years, many women are known to have used the monies they receive from their Osusu for this very purpose.

#2.Paying for Children’s Education

There are many women putting their children through school than we may be aware of. This is especially so in extended families where the men are stretched thin “caring” for children from multiple wives. For most women, the choice is between standing up to see their children get the quality education that will literally help them move from “sun to shade” or to wait for their overwhelmed husbands to pay for their children’s education.

For most Gambian women, their children’s education is too precious to leave in the hands of a husband who is stretched thin. As a result, many do join an Osusu here and another one there to help fund their children’s schooling. We’ve heard of several stories where mothers have used the Osusu to pay for their kids’ education.

#3.Upgrading Living Conditions

Many women have started out raising their families in squalid conditions due to poverty. However, the Gambian woman is not the one that settles for never ending hardships. Pushed to the corner, she is a lioness willing to die for her cubs. For this very reason, women have collaborated in Osusu schemes and they’ve invested their returns either to buy new homes or to upgrade their residences to livable standards.

Conclusions

Thanks to the Osusu, Gambian women have helped each other improve their collective good. No matter the use case, Gambian women have found that the Osusu scheme is a reliable avenue to ease the difficulties that they are faced with in their daily lives.  

The Osusu has worked so well for Gambian women at home that Gambian women in the Diaspora have been known to form themselves in Osusu groups in exactly the same ways their mothers and grandmothers did afore time. All other things remaining constant, we reckon that Osusu will be around for many years to come.

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