Wednesday January 22 2014

Revival of cooperatives crucial for our rural transformation agenda

By Pascal Odoch

While closing the 2014/2015 National Consultative Budget Workshop at Serena Hotel in Kampala on Thursday, President Museveni remarked that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government focus in the 2014/15 Financial Year will be on big markets for Uganda’s products through the East African Community and COMESA, among other regional economic blocs. This bodes well with his New Year’s message on wealth creation focus by Ugandans.

In keeping with the President’s key message on wealth creation and markets, revival of primary cooperative societies as it were, would help accelerate the rural transformation agenda in the country. This is also linked to the long-term aspirations of the country dubbed Vision 2040 that was launched in April 2013 by none other than the President. The Uganda Vision 2040 targets a “transformed Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 30 years”.

Clearly, given the rural character of the country’s social and political economy, it is critical that the country revisits the original cooperative principles that bode well with rural Uganda. The cooperative movement works on values and principles is guided by the belief that poverty is not only lack of money, but also lack of power. This lack of power and helplessness is one of the greatest obstacles for people living in poverty to improve their situation. The notion borders Paulo Freire’s deconstruction of the mind that awakens the individual to begin to have hope, that “it is possible”.

Another great attribute of the cooperative movement is its notion of governance by people – not for people! In order to support themselves in the long term, people who live in poverty need influence over their own lives and on their surrounding society. This belief is critical in that in order for resource-poor individuals to gain that consciousness ie to become empowered, the individuals themselves must participate in improving both their living conditions and their ability to exert influence in society. Thus, the development work has to be by people – not for people. Therefore, cooperative movement cultivates the spirit of self-help in a community.

Cooperative movement fosters local democracy as it believes that the best tool to achieve economic and democratic change is for people living in abject poverty to get organised in cooperative organisations or other democratic associations, where each member has a vote and the organisation’s driver is to meet both the economic and the social needs of the bona-fide members. This is why it is important for the resource poor individuals themselves to have the motivation to do everything possible to get themselves out of the situation they find themselves entangled in.

Contemporary development paradigms are pre-occupied with the engagement on the respect and fulfillment of the rights and indeed entitlements of an individual in Ugandan society. The strive to tackle not only the symptoms of poverty and injustice but also the structures that cause them is a constraint that is holistically addressed by the nature and manner by which the cooperative movement goes about its business.

The government’s emphasis to enhancement of the capacity of cooperatives to compete in domestic, regional and international markets is a move that should be well supported. Such actions should include pursuit of measures that increase the productive capacity of members of the cooperative movement; promoting cooperative education and training; promoting value addition and collective marketing; improving access to financial services for the cooperative institutions; strengthening the capacity of cooperative institutions; promoting partnerships and linkages; and establishing and strengthening cooperative information systems.

Dr Odoch is a development consultant.