Re-writing the History of Kenya’s Co-operative Movement

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Global Communities Country Director Kimberly Tilock handing over a copy of the draft County Cooperatives Model Bill to the COG Chair,Peter Munya
Global Communities Country Director Kimberly Tilock handing over a copy of the draft County Cooperatives Model Bill to the COG Chair,Peter Munya

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, in wisdom is remembered by his startling quotes about change – ‘change is the only constant thing in life’; and “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man”, because be it the man or the river, they are constantly changing.

In the today’s rapidly changing world, exhibited by emerging socio-economic challenges, the role of a development change agent cannot be underestimated. Global Communities through the USAID funded Enabling Market Integration through Rural Group Empowerment (EMIRGE) Program in Kenya, is playing the role of a change agent in the co-operative movement. It is on the verge of re-writing the history of co-operative movement in the country.

The co-operative movement in Kenya has long history from the colonial to post-colonial to post multi-party democracy era, to today’s new constitutional dispensation. From the production to housing and financial focus, these activity sectors have, doubtlessly, over the years put the country on the global co-operatives map – being number one in Africa and number seven in the world. But today, the emerging youth and employment trend challenges, are definitely about to define the status of the country’s co-operative movement. This is because, the previous sectors of focus in Kenya, are either stagnating or slowly collapsing or metamorphosing to other business models. Such cases include, the delay in return on investment for housing co-operatives, increasing loan defaults in savings and credit co-operatives or transformation to microfinance institutions, and lowly performing agricultural sector for agricultural producer co-operatives.

What next? It is being appreciated that as Kenya moves to the league of ‘middle income’ countries, based on Country’s Vision 2030 blueprint, the economic sector is slowly and firmly settling on the bedrock of growing service industries – for employment creation and income generation. But such service industries, with greater composition of workers, are still characterized by concentration of wealth in hands of few (who are not accountable to the communities), low job qualities, and wide wage disparities.

By their nature, principles and values, the co-operatives can address these gaps in service industries. How? In a Kenya under new constitutional dispensation, the co-operative movement is now a devolved function of the county level of government. This is the gap that Global Communities’ EMIRGE Program is filling. First, by spearheading the development of County Model Legal, Regulatory and Policy Framework; and lobbying for the adoption of the same by the respective County Governments. Secondly, by conducting research on the structural, relational and cognitive dimensions of co-operatives as significant social capital organizations in the country. Thirdly, by piloting workers co-operatives in building and construction, beauty and wellness, and corporate branding and marketing service industries. To greater extend, these industries are dominated by women and youth, from the informal settlements of urban areas, starting with Nairobi, the Capital City. The worker co-operatives’ momentum is on, in Kenya. The push by Global Communities’ EMIRGE Program is in the right direction, to make the greatest difference, to bring about the inevitable co-operatives change, and to re-write the history of co-operatives movement in the country.


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