This paper questions received wisdom that the benefits of microfinance start with poverty reduction and are subsequently followed by social emancipation. Taking the case of Uganda and by using a consensual people-centred relevance test to assess the impact of microfinance on poverty alleviation, microfinance is shown not to improve much the well-being of microfinance clients. Only marginal well-being gains are achieved by clients. However, a subsequent (gender) power relations analysis reveals that in spite of these marginal well-being gains, the women clients achieved more emancipation. The paper calls for a rethinking of the microfinance (outreach) campaign in Africa and of the controversy between a business or welfarist approach to microfinance. The paper suggests that social emancipation should be pursued in its own right rather than waiting for poverty reduction to occur first.

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ISS Staff Group 0
The European Journal of Development Research
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

de Haan, L.J, & Lakwob, A. (2010). Rethinking the Impact of Microfinance in Africa: ‘Business Change’ or Social Emancipation. The European Journal of Development Research, 1–39. Retrieved from