Farmers better off without politicians
Posted Thursday, September 26 2013 at 01:00
It is a sensible thing that the Cooperative Society Act is up for amendment to ensure cooperative unions are never saddled with politicians in leadership positions again.
Cynical political meddling resulted in the collapse of the cooperative movement. President Museveni’s government will take the blame for much of that failure, having made the misguided decision to withdraw subsidies, crop and marketing finance – which was the backbone of the system.
It was that ill-formed choice influenced by the harsh Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP), which also saw the irrational liberalisation of State parastatals, that resulted in the insolvency and subsequent liquidation of the Cooperative Bank around the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The bank collapsed partly because cooperative unions which owed it money could not repay loans once they had been rendered cash-strapped.
Then, it seemed the government was quietly terrified of farmers unions as a rallying point for its opponents and so happily acquiesced in the SAP agenda to destroy them. These fears were not entirely unfounded since the socialist-leaning Uganda Peoples Congress government, which had overseen efforts to revive cooperatives in the 1980s, was rather popular within the movement.
This was an unintended consequence of enthusiastic State involvement with cooperative societies during the Obote II years, a time when they became policy instruments (in effect, parastatals) in the push for rural development. The NRM involvement has, unfortunately, tended to be of a more destructive nature as the recent example of Bugisu Cooperative Union shows.
Without the meddling, however, the cooperatives can be a force for socio-economic change. They offer immense potential as vehicles for mobilising savings. Introduced here in 1913 as a native response to exploitative European and Asian monopolistic tendencies in domestic and export marketing of coffee and cotton, the movement has enjoyed periods of great expansion and wealth, but also suffered the desolation of the Amin years.
Managed well, cooperatives provide ready credit to members, stem rural-urban migration by creating employment opportunities where present, and the agro-based industry they support inevitably become growth points for developments.
We need to ensure that the amended law also requires cooperatives to employ technically-competent managers to guarantee efficient running. Lay members may form the body of a farmers union but past experience has shown that irrespective of the benefits attached to democratic election of leaders, if they are ignorant in management processes, the story always ends in tears.