As we continue to ponder on job creation, income generation and citizen economic empowerment, it is becoming clear to us that we cannot achieve any of those without collaboration. This collaboration it seems it has to come in the form of Co-operative societies, a concept that is not entirely new to us as a nation or player in the global village.
The idea of cooperatives of course originated in England in 1844. At that time, Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their store selling pure food at fair prices and honest weights and measures. The cooperative business revolution then saw a billion co-operators as members of 1.4 million cooperative societies across the world including as “deep” as Etsha 6, Botswana being part of the Rochdale Co-operative Theory. In fact, the last time we checked Etsha 6 Cooperative Society was one of the few surviving in our country.
In the early years of our independence, Co-operatives were seen as major players in development, loaded down with expectations, as well as government interference. As a result, many failed but that does not mean that they are not crucial in the advancement of our economy. As we all might be aware, the primary role of co-operatives is to meet their members’ needs. We therefore hope that a revival of Co-operatives, if successful, will aid the economic up-liftment of most of our people, atleast those who would be willing to be part of the movement.
In 2012, the government announced that it had reviewed the Co-operatives policy to allow more of our people to go into co- operative society business. We are not up to date on how far the review has gone in terms of “pushing” a lot of our people into that area.
We however suspect that a lot of Batswana, in the early 90s when most cooperative societies died, were dismissal of the concept. At the time, as we all know, most cooperative societies dramatically declined and later varnished into thin air. The death of the Co-operatives was, in our view, partially due to financial maladministration but also due to lack of proper guidance from the government, the ultimate parent.
We read in local newspapers that recently the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse called on all Cooperative Societies in the country to evolve into well-functioning enterprises with clear business models that will help them grow and contribute significantly in diversifying the economy. This is a commendable call. These are words that no one should listen to and ignore. Even those who say it should not be saying it just for the sake of making a charming speech or for the purpose of officiating.
It is very important to note that as we look into reviving the Co-operative sector we should not forget that capacity building, training and further education remain critical for development of the members of any societies that would be formed. Strengthening networks between such Co-operatives is also crucial for the survival and the advancement of the domestic economy.
The social and economic benefits of the co-operatives can have a far reaching impact, but they need support from the development community to reach their potential. Actually for now they don’t need to reach full potential but rather revival at bare minimum.
The death of co-operatives has been recorded not just in Botswana but even elsewhere in the world. Reasons obviously differ but what is common is the fact that in recent in recent decades, the movement (co-operatives) have made a comeback.
This is surely because everyone has since realised that co-operatives can and do make major contributions to millennium development goals. Co-operatives come in all shapes and sizes and all sectors of the economy. This is why they can, if properly managed generate income for their members and also offer a range of benefits ÔÇô depending on why they are set up. In meeting their members needs co-operatives enhance incomes and secure livelihoods for their members and their communities by extension. As we have said before in this space, unemployment has a very strong link to high income inequality, exclusion, compromised quality of life and ultimately abject poverty. But like we have submitted before, as we hereby do, we should not be ashamed to recognise Co-operatives as crucial means for employment creation, poverty alleviation and economic growth for our people. The general meaning of cooperation is that isolated and powerless individuals can, by combining with one another, achieve advantages available to the rich and the powerful so that they may advance not only materially but also morally.
The #Bottomline is that much as we agree that Co-operatives cannot provide the whole answer to the economic injustice that our people are facing at the moment, they are certainly part of the answer. It is through cooperation that our people can start dreaming of becoming financial independent.