Written by: Mark Matabi, Co-operatives Specialist / Country Lead, EMIRGE Kenya
The 2017 general elections have had twists. After the nullification of the August 8th 2017 presidential elections, repeat presidential elections will be held on 17th October 2017. The Supreme Court annulled the presidential poll results on the basis of ‘illegalities’ and ‘irregularities’. Before, during, and after the elections, Kenya is characterized by cases of political tensions and chaos in parts of the country. A key lesson from these occurrences, is the unpassed test of the spirit of democracy, social justice and peace building. The immensity of ‘steam’ thereof, seriously threatens to ‘choke’ the nationhood and socio-economic activities. This connotes a citizenry whose aspirations are dampened by the current nation’s value systems.
One thing that seriously needs redress in Kenya, to end periodic electoral malpractices and political tensions and violence, are community structures to nurture democratic and societal values that re-define citizens’ principles. Just as the ‘Nyumba Kumi’ initiative has helped to curb community-level insecurity, co-operative societies are such community structures – to promote authentic democracy, social justice and peace.
How? It is in the annals of Kenya’s history how the co-operative and labor movements played a critical role in the country’s independence. The independence brought tears of joy and not anguish. Peace, Love, Unity and ‘Harambee’ (self-help) became the country’s slogan. Subsequently, the country’s history has shown that the slightest interference with co-operative and labor movements deteriorates the slogan and the spirit thereof. The results have been growing tribalism (and even nepotism and clannism), corruption, intolerance, tension, violence, and many more social ills; not only at the national, but also at the regional and community levels.
Co-operative structures, principles, and values can remedy these ills. How?
Firstly, co-operatives are democratic business organizations equally owned and controlled by a group of community members by common-bond admission – all are co-operators, period. Membership is none discriminatory – no tribe or region is greater than the other. One member one vote – and no dead voter or voting by proxy during the election of leaders or policy. Because co-operatives are democratically owned by community members, co-operatives keep much of their money and jobs in their communities. Much of co-operative’s money is not stuffed in foreign banks; jobs are created for people living in the co-operative community – youth, women and people living with disability.
Secondly, co-operatives offer achievable and practical solutions, to many economic, environmental and social problems that can be implemented right now. ‘Manifestos’ shouldn’t just impress the electorates, but should also be achievable and practical, based on the strategic plan or vision of the co-operative, and economic factors.
Thirdly, co-operatives are an empowerment means for self-help and solidarity of members. Co-operative leadership builds infrastructure, such as the industrial parks. They promote community empowerment rather than giving hand-outs among its populace, to attract votes. Everyone has a gift and should therefore engage in co-operative community and business building. This should be the path of Kenya’s politics.
Fourth, co-operative members equally share the burden in hard times and equally share benefits in good times. The co-operative’s populace is not ‘forced’ to share grief in hard times – to pray or even sympathize with ‘our leader’. Co-operatives emphasizes the need to genuinely embrace the shared leadership and ‘citizenry’.
Fifth, co-operatives strive to make members’ lives, communities and economies more just, equitable and democratic. The leaders are transparent about what they borrowed or generated and how they used it for the co-operative’s sake, they do not lie or engage in cheap public relations, and they do not disfranchise members nor offer skewed development on perceived voting patterns. It cannot happen, because members are well educated and informed on their rights and responsibilities as shareholders.
Sixth, co-operatives are more resilient in economic downturns and in impoverished communities. Being viable and just alternatives for meeting social and economic needs, co-operatives do not shut down, or lay off, or fail to pay workers. Instead co-operative members pull together to work out solutions – without castigating fears or intimidating others. Furthermore, leaders do not ‘loot’ the co-operative through shady ‘solution’ deals such as importation of raw materials, and privatization of co-operative businesses, without following the by-laws.
Finally, co-operatives are an international movement. There are thousands of co-operatives around the world making significant impact locally and globally. Co-operatives are implementing sustainable development goals, and undertaking actions that positively impact neighbors, and the whole globe.
A true co-operator is made to use the ‘head’ and not the ‘belly’ to think, talk and act. Social and political injustices and tensions thereof are fueled by the ‘belly’ values. Community structures like co-operatives instills ‘head’ values of, ‘I am because WE are, and since WE are, therefore I am’, as postulated by Kenya’s own Theologian, John Mbiti.
If this rings a bell on ways and means of promoting democracy and/or ending tribalism, corruption, tensions and violence in Kenya, then the roots of co-operatives in the country must be retraced and embraced. Promotion and strengthening of the co-operative societies in the country need serious re-examination and consideration under the new government(s). The USAID/EMIRGE program in Kenya is such a co-operative development initiative, empowering youth, women and people living with disabilities in Kenya’s rural and informal settlements, to address community love, peace, unity and prosperity. Let us create an environment for co-operative development and promote co-operatives for nurturing democracy, social justice and peace building in the countries and communities!
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