Debates on Co-operatives

Why are co-operatives in former colonial Africa today distrusted?

Contrary to Western Europe where in the mid-nineteenth century it were poor people that invented co-operatives to collectively improve their living standards, in sub-Saharan Africa co-operatives were not introduced bottom-up but from above. Co-operative societies emerged in the 1930s in many African countries, introduced by the colonial administrations in order to collect export commodities (e.g. cocoa, coffee, cotton, and tea) more cost-effectively and co-operatives were used to extend government control to the local level while making participation compulsory. Until the late 1980s and early 1990s cooperatives in Africa, especially those involved in cash crops, successfully organized small-scale farmers into groups to sell their produce collectively to monopolistic state owned Statutory Marketing Boards (Develtere et al., 2009). When the economy was liberalized in most African countries in the early 1990s, during a period of liberalization and severe political instability, most cooperatives failed (Develtere et al., 2009; Hussi et al., 1993). During the past decade the creation of commercially autonomous and member-based cooperative organizations experiences a revival and is promoted by development practitioners, governments and scholars (Wanyama et al. 2008, 2009).


However, the past experience affects people´s trust into present-day institutions for collective action, in particular when promoted by the government. Within the context of poverty and corruption trust is a sensitive issue in any case. In what way is the functioning and creation of present-day co-operatives related to the past and what can be done to recover and overcome suspicion and wariness on the part of their potential members?




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