The way forward to advancing cooperatives in Africa: Interviews with African cooperative leaders

In September 2016, three cooperative leaders from the United Republic of Tanzania and Niger participated in a study tour to Japan to get exposed to lessons learned from Japanese cooperative enterprises and share cooperative experiences between the countries.

News | 10 October 2016
Organised jointly with the Japanese Consumers' Co-operative Union (JCCU) since 2010, this programme has benefited 30 cooperative leaders and practitioners from nine African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe). In this article, this year’s participants share their views on the relevance of the programme, and how it will benefit their organization and national cooperative movement.

What were your expectations for the study tour and how were they met during the programme? What were the main findings from the study tour that are relevant to your organization and/or the cooperative movement in your country? 

Athumani L.Mahadhi, Executive Secretary of Tanga Dairies Co-operative Union Ltd., Tanzania
I was looking forward to seeing dairy cooperatives in Japan to understand how they are managed and run. I really enjoyed our visit to an agricultural cooperative dealing with livestock. Our discussion with members helped identify potential solutions for dairy farming related problems faced by our Union in Tanzania. The most relevant lesson learned from the study tour for me was that cooperative enterprises are not for poor people but for the people who take advantage of their mutual efforts and capital to establish a strong business enterprise. In business, loyalty and transparency are keys to success. It convinced me that dedication and hard work even in difficult situations can bring better results.

Elizabeth C. Makwabe, CEO, Kilimanjaro Co-operative Bank Ltd., Tanzania
I was very interested in exploring specific financial products developed by cooperative banks and institutions, and issues related to storage facilities for commodities. I was also eager to identify potential interests from Japanese investors in Tanzania. Through the programme, I had the impression that cooperatives in Japan have a “human face”. They care about their members, especially the elderly. Projects such as the after school care centres and the hospital run by cooperatives were very interesting for me. During the tour, I had an opportunity to see the whole supply chain from farms to supermarkets. The way agricultural cooperative banks and labour banks run as cooperatives work, and the different financing schemes provided by cooperatives were new areas to me. These are very relevant to the work of my cooperative. If we are to move forward fast, we need to put into use these important attributes.

Tahirou Amza, CEO of Fédération des coopératives maraîchères du Niger, Niger
Through this programme, I had the impression that success in cooperatives is grounded in individual and collective commitment, leadership and good governance, quality of services to members, hard work, team work, involvement of individual members, solidarity towards members and the community, and respect of cooperative principles. Respect for those values gave significant results in areas such as banking, insurance, business services, and social services. With respect to the quality of services provided, training of staff is found to be critical.

Having attended the study tour in Japan, what kind of initiatives you intend to implement based on the experience?

Athumani L. Mahadhi, Tanzania

After I returned to Tanzania, we organized a meeting with the chairmen from all the cooperatives in the neighbouring areas. During the meeting, we reaffirmed the importance of cooperative education and training for members in running cooperative enterprises. As far as business growth is concerned, we need to tackle the current challenges of production capacity per unit and technology development.

Elizabeth C. Makwabe, Tanzania

We intend to engage in the following areas: Raising member’s awareness, diversification of the types of cooperatives, improving market access, and promoting more inclusion of women and youth. With respect to awareness raising, we may explore the possibility of organizing training programmes to sensitize cooperative members to have a different mind-set on cooperatives. This should help them understand what they can do to promote the cooperative movement across Tanzania. In addition, we would like to contribute to the diversification of the types of cooperatives in the country, rather than limiting ourselves to the traditional types we currently have, such as agricultural marketing cooperative societies (AMCOs) and the savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs). For instance, consumer cooperatives could play an important role in the sector. Improving access to the market would be another area. It is essential for farmers to have a joint bargaining power to get better prices. We are interested to learn more on packaging design techniques used in Japan. Beautiful packaging makes products look cleaner and more attractive.

Tahirou Amza, Niger

Currently in my country, Niger, there are two key challenges for cooperatives: 1) Training for leaders and technical staff of cooperatives, unions and federations of cooperatives; and 2) The establishment of marketing services through accessible consumers’ markets. I raised the question on how members can strengthen cooperatives as a business model while we were in Japan. From the exchanges that followed, I understood that the promotion of members’ participation and autonomy based on individual and collective commitment, members’ access to services, funding for diverse commercial and social activities, and capacity development of human resources in the business were crucial in ensuring sustainability.