Co-operative Movement can help Africa to grow

21 Feb 2013

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Co-operatives can take Africa to the next level, according to the ICA's newly-appointed Regional Director for the continent.

Dr Chiyoge Sifa, who starts the role at ICA Africa on 1 March, was previously the director of the Co-operatives Program at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There she spearheaded the development of a five-year development strategy for agricultural co-operatives that brought together a diverse range of stakeholders.

She believes African governments should see co-ops as "key partners" in achieving their socio-economic objectives: “Co-ops have a social dimension beyond economic gains; they are a means to achieve social empowerment."

And, Dr Sifa also thinks co-ops can be the “perfect platform to foster gender equality” and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

In an interview with eDigest, she explained that Africa’s economy used to be based on agriculture and mining, but things have started to change in recent years, with co-ops emerging in many new niche sectors. Dr Sifa added that co-ops empower local communities and help to expand the African economy. She said co-operatives can bring opportunities and help to develop various sectors such as retail, banking or manufacturing.

Even though co-operation is a part of the African culture, Dr Sifa said co-operatives have developed in Africa following promotion from governments or NGOs: “Unlike in the rest of the world someone had to come and preach co-operation."

Dr Sifa, whose experience with the co-operative movement dates back to the 1990s, said a main challenge for the region is the fact that people tend to perceive co-ops as something old-fashioned or as an enterprise model for those poor or disadvantaged. She said it is essential to “remove the baggage of the promoter”. She continued: “We are grateful to some governments in Africa who have been promoting co-operatives and put forward good co-op legislation and policies.”

School curriculums should also embrace the co-operative enterprise model, according to the new Regional Director. Dr Sifa said this is already happening at some "forward-looking" universities where she has previously helped teach students about co-operative values on a Policy Management course at the African Nazarene University in Kenya. She said students seemed very engaged in the discussions and were eager to find out more about the model.

One thing Dr Sifa is keen to solve is the large number of “false co-operatives” in existence (or co-operatives without co-operators), which are common not only in Africa, but also in other parts of the world. She said that enterprises that initially seek to adopt co-op values end-up operating as a different type of business. One possible explanation for this issue is, according to Dr Sifa, a lack of proper education on the values and principles. She said the ICA along with national governments will work together to track these “false co-ops” to come up with a joint solution.

One way of raising the profile and education of the movement in Africa will be at the ICA Global Conference and General Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa, in November. Dr Sifa welcomed the ICA's initiative to hold the event on the continent for the first time in its history and hopes this will help to bring the attention of both the local and international media.

Picture: Regional Director of ICA Africa, Dr Chiyoge Buchekabiri Sifa.

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