ILO COOP 100 Interview

Interview with Sifa Chiyoge, International Cooperative Alliance Africa Regional Director

ILO COOP 100 Interview series features past and present ILO colleagues and key partners who have closely engaged with the ILO's work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). The interviews reflect on their experience and contributions in the past and shares their thoughts on the future of cooperatives and the SSE in a changing world of work. For this issue, we interviewed Sifa Chiyoge, the Director of International Cooperative Alliance Africa region. She reflected on her years of work on cooperatives, including with governments, higher education institutions, NGOs as well as with the cooperative movement in the region. She shared with us her thoughts on the historical trajectory of cooperatives in Africa, priorities, challenges and prospects in the face of the crises and changes taking place in the world of work.

Article | 02 April 2020
Interview with Sifa Chiyoge, International Cooperative Alliance Africa Regional Director

How did you get interested and involved in cooperatives? 

I did my professional internship at a credit union (COOCEC-KIVU) which is a secondary cooperative for SACCOs in the then Kivu region of the DRC. This was a colllege/university requirement for my first degree. I spent three months there and that is how I was introduced to the cooperative movement.

You have worked on cooperatives in different countries and in different capacities across Africa. What have been key challenges for cooperative development in the region and how do you think we can best address them?

I have worked with both the cooperative movement and government agencies across Africa. I also taught cooperative studies at institutions of higher learning. Based on these experiences I would say some of key challenges and opportunities could be summarized as follow.

  • Roles expected for cooperatives:
Cooperatives in Africa are yet to be fully understood. They are a third force in the economy. The concept of being an enterprise (private sector) and civil society (community local movement) and NGO with global outreach with great potential of addressing local needs with global support system. This is what makes cooperatives a good response strategy human enterprises to both local and global challenges.

  • Key challenges (legislation, government institutions, and cooperative capacities):
Emanating from their multiple roles, cooperatives are faced with legislative challenges as some countries either legislate them as purely as private or civil organizations or as social /NGOs and hardly as all in one. One reason for this is the lack of knowledge by the legislators. Given the fact that most cooperative laws were enacted during colonial era, their revision still caries same colonial mentality baggage and hardly reflect the new Africa we want as envisioned in the African Union Agenda 2063.

Government institutions mandated to support the promotion of cooperatives more than often lack resources, especially to inspect, audit and thereafter redress the cooperatives in their respective countries. This has led to lack of accurate data on cooperatives in most countries and with no data, no proper planning which leads to poor performance. This is why the guidelines on statistics of cooperatives are such an important effort that should be supported.

Many cooperatives have limited capacity and capabilities to thrive in an everchanging competitive world. Unfortunately, education and training is not happening in most cooperatives leading to members who do not know their rights and do not understand cooperative principles and values.

  • Key initiatives and/or projects to address the challenges:
As a region, first we are in the forefront making sure we take conscience of our limitations and challenges affecting us as from the aforementioned through our various meetings both formal and informal. We are working with the African Union structure for a cooperative model law for Africa to address the aforementioned legislative challenges.

We agreed through our annual cooperatives registrars/commissioners/directors meeting to address current issues affecting us and design strategies to address them while sharing good practices. Similarly, at the ministerial conferences and reviews these issues are elaborated upon.

We decided to launch sectoral continental organizations to remain relevant to our primary and secondary cooperatives who are competing in specific industries by providing technical knowledge and intelligence. We have also formed regional thematic committees made up of experts to advice on current and emerging issues.

  • Lessons learned:
We have learned that a turn-around strategy requires full dedication, high motivation and stamina, resources and collaboration and partnerships.

Could you also tell us about your collaboration with the ILO on cooperative erative development across the years?

I was involved with ILO’s cooperative development work including through the CoopAfrica project. I was also requested to provide my expert view/contributions to Matcom on agricultural cooperative training while still working for government in South Africa. In my current position as ICA Africa regional director, I have worked hand in hand with ILO COOP Unit on various areas including on the ILO/JCCU African cooperative leaders study tour in Japan and in relation to cooperative to cooperative trade in SADC countries just to mention a few.

  • Key achievements:
More than 30 African cooperative leaders have benefited from the study tour in Japan. The rapid assessment report on cooperative to cooperative trade in SADC countries was used as a base line for a possible trade to trade project in the subregion.

  • Lessons learned:
Through collaboration and partnership, we can do more.

What do you think is the value added of the ILO in promoting and advancing cooperatives?

The ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No.193) is of critical essence for the development of modern cooperative legislation across countries in Africa, and around the world. The ILO Guidelines on Cooperative Legislation have been our main reference in developing the model cooperative law in Africa.

We recommend and follow up that national cooperative laws and strategies abide by ILO’s Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No.193) and it is quoted in most of the revisions of cooperative laws on the continent.

The annual ILO/JCCU African cooperative leaders study tour in Japan is an important example here. Research on critical issues such as cooperative to cooperative trade as undertaken by the ILO are important contributions to the region.

The world of work is changing rapidly. In which areas do you think African cooperatives can and should play more important roles in the future?

All are equally important and intertwined hence, there is need to develop a master plan/project which encompasses all these aspects namely- formalization of informal economy, youth employment, women empowerment, social protection, transition to a greener economy, rural development, and elimination of child labour among these areas.

What do you think is needed to tap into such potentials of African cooperatives?

Revising legislations, strengthening cooperative management capacities, generating evidence-based knowledge, attracting youth into cooperatives are among the key issues facing the African cooperative movement.

In terms of possible areas of collaboration between the ILO and the ICA Africa, the model cooperative law for Africa is one. Capacitating government officials in inspection and auditing of cooperatives is another. Education and training of cooperative leaders as the study tour in Japan can be replicated for other countries. We can also partner on sectoral and thematic development of regional cooperative organizations in the region.