The USAID-funded Enabling Market Integration through Rural Groups Empowerment (EMIRGE) program in Kenya has brought to the fore key lessons on co-operative development. With the objective of piloting and promoting urban and youth workers and service-oriented co-operatives, the sensitization and registration process of these types of co-operatives proves to be a challenge. This is a clear indication that Kenya’s co-operative movement is in the midst of an image and identity crisis.
First, the government and donors who are to attract and promote the co-operative business model, have tended to fuse types of co-operatives. With the dominance of SACCOs in the country, every other economic activity that is to adopt the co-operative business model is now ‘homologous’ to SACCOs. For instance, you will find people, including government co-operative officers and media, making such references as farmers’ SACCO instead of producer and marketing co-operative; or transport SACCO instead of transport service co-operative. A SACCO is not a co-operative in and of itself, but rather an entity that co-operative members use for savings and loans. With such a co-operative image and identity crisis, the effort of piloting and promoting other types of co-operatives such as workers and service co-operatives is killed, stifled and crippled. For instance, it takes more time to register such other co-operatives compared to SACCOs, as the registry officers try to locate and consult the co-operative policy, legislation and regulatory framework for the definition and basis of registration. The development of SACCOs is interestingly, disguising the development of the country’s co-operative movement as ‘great’! This casts a shadow on the co-operative knowledge and capacity among promoters and regulators in the country. There is, therefore, the need to review the co-operative policy and legislation framework in light of the new constitution, develop a curriculum and continuously build the capacity of co-operative promoters, regulators, leaders and managers through training forums and information materials. In addition, there is a need to develop a centralized and digitized co-operative bureau of statistics and registration for data segregation.
Secondly, there is no common understanding of co-operatives’ formation and development approach and practices by the promoters in the country. In a country where there are different types of both formal and informal groupings around economic activities, such as ‘chamas’, self-help groups, and companies, the co-operatives environment makes the co-operative business model unattractive for service-based economic activities, such as branding and marketing, building and construction, beauty and wellness. In some cases of agri-based activities, there have been blame-games of development politics on co-operatives formation. Specifically, the donors implementing the secure livelihoods programs have been blamed for the mushrooming of un-sustainable producer and marketing co-operatives, which collapse immediately after projects’ end. The learning by USAID/EMIRGE program is that in the course of changing socio-economic and political environment, the development of successful co-operative ‘organisms’ in Kenya is as a result of regeneration of one type from another type – that is synonymous to the biological process of ‘sympatric and allopatric speciation’. For instance, at independence in 1963, the major types of co-operatives in Kenya were agriculture producer and marketing co-operatives – especially for such commodities as coffee, dairy, pyrethrum, cotton and horticulture. With the financial access challenges by these co-operatives and their members in 1970s, and through the Bretton Woods institutions’ structural adjustment programs of 1990s; the concept of Co-operative Production Credit Scheme (CPCS) was born to what are the today’s thriving SACCOs. Many other independent initiatives in organizing housing, ﬁsheries, handcraft, farm purchase and multi-purpose co-operatives were made with less success. Furthermore, with greater savings mobilization, and reducing member credit needs, SACCOs faced challenge of investing financial surpluses. This led to diversification into real estate ventures, setting up housing investments sections for members’ housing needs. Later, this would regenerate to stand-alone successful housing co-operatives. With change of climate conditions and poor markets, agricultural co-operative members for such commodities as coffee are also disposing off their parcels of land for real estate, which the housing co-operatives capitalize on. To date, therefore, the vibrancy of Kenya’s co-operative movement is largely comprised of the continuous ‘speciation’ of agriculture, financial and housing co-operatives.
If any other type of co-operative is to be promoted successfully in Kenya, it has to be on the principles of ‘sympatric and allopatric speciation’. With the new constitutional dispensation, and the space for co-operative policy and legislation framework development, the environment is rife to advance the country’s co-operative movement. Therefore, there is need of advocacy for county based co-operative policy and legislation that promotes the diverse regeneration of co-operatives types; from agriculture, financial and housing co-operatives, to such other co-operatives as service and workers co-operatives. Furthermore, there is need for continuous research and documentation work on Kenya’s co-operatives movement for continuous learning on vertical and horizontal integration of co-operatives.
For Kenya’s co-operatives movement to grow faster, it must overcome co-operatives image and identity crisis. It must develop to maturity, be competitive and all-inclusive, and not leave any other economic sector behind. There is still greater need for co-operatives’ promoters to develop and implement initiatives that would focus much more on exploiting current co-operative legal environment and stakeholders’ capacity. This will expand the co-operative business model to all sectors in Kenya, developing more small and medium enterprise markets, create more employment opportunities, and more secure livelihoods.