Report from Africa (1997)

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This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp. 30-34)

Report from Africa
by Bernard Wolimbwa*
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It is an honour for me, and my fellow co-operators from Africa to
participate in this year's ICA General Assembly Meeting.  In the ten
minutes given I intend to provide a bird's eye view of the movement in
Africa to share our experiences with the rest of you from other parts of
the world.

Africa Today
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Africa is still deeply in the grip of major economic and political reforms
started at the beginning of the decade.  What the people and governments
of Africa need to do is not in doubt.  What is not so clear is how long such
complex and fundamental changes can be tolerated and sustained, and with
what results.

Many positive steps have been taken and some gains have been recorded.
Annual GDP growth rates in about a third of the countries are just above the
population growth rate, implying modest real growth.  Most of the rest have
positive GDP growth rates in nominal terms.  Since 1990, twenty seven
multi-party elections have been held.  This was the first time in twenty one
of the countries.  And, since 1980 opposition parties have been legalised in
thirty one countries.

The reality is that Africa is still challenged by ignorance, poverty,
unemployment and underemployment, disease and ill health, and lack of
shelter.  About 170 million people (a third of Africa's population) do not get
enough to eat.  Maternal mortality rate is 929 per 100,000 live births.  In the
OECD the figure is 33.  There is only one doctor for every 18,000 people
compared to 390 in the industrial countries.  More than 10 million people
are infected with HIV, two thirds of the world total.  Malaria and other
preventable diseases are back with a vengeance.

The external debt burden is heavy.  Commodity prices have continued to
decline and the expectation that some African countries would by now be
moving towards Newly Industrialized Country status seems to have been
over-optimistic.  Agriculture still accounts for 30 - 35% of GDP, on
average.

Tensions, war and civil strife in addition to trade union unrest are still
common.  Also, against contemporary expectation, we have recently seen
a remilitarization of government in several countries.  The refugee crisis in
Africa has refused to go away.  There are still about six million refugees on
the continent.  On average 1.3 million hectares of Africa are eaten up by the
desert every year.

The Situation of Co-operatives
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Co-operatives in Africa are directly affected by the wider reality that faces
the region.  As a sector they find that the environment in 1997 is much more
conducive and open.  Most of the artificial environment under which they
lived in the past has been dismantled.  Of course the new environment has
exposed them to threats from which they may have been previously
sheltered.  Although it gives them the opportunity to operate in a genuinely
democratic manner, this new situation also means that they must compete
fiercely with other players.

Like the African states and other institutions, co-operatives find that they
have first to go through a period of learning and adjustment.  This period is
proving painful and in other cases, fatal. Those co-operatives which were
formed without a sound basis have been exposed under the new
environment.  Many have lost business and the support of their members. 
Some have had to close down while others have resized and restructured
significantly.  Their organizational, financial, technical and human capacities
fall below what is required in the new environment.

As a general trend, the co-op movement in Africa is not growing. The co-op
organizations in Africa are not growing stronger either - at least not   yet
with the exception of the credit union movement which is growing in  many
countries.  But loss or lack of regular income for members is threatening.
Promotional work previously carried out by governments and other
development organisations is at its lowest ever.  Government and donor
resources for co-operative development have fallen over the last decade and
now amount to very little.  The ICA in Africa is equally affected by this
trend.

When all is said and done, however, the indications are that co-operatives
have a bright future.  They are once more showing resilience and versatility
even in the most adverse conditions.  People have already begun to see
some disdavantages in the current markets which are open only in theory. 
Manipulation of prices and poor quality control are becoming common.  In
some cases production is also falling due to disintegration of production
support structures.  The value of co-operatives as a format for orderliness is
reasserting itself, and being noticed.

Membership of the ICA in Africa has kept in line with overall developments
in the co-operative movement which means it is not increasing.  In 1994
there were 24 ICA member organizations with 15.2 individual members in
17 countries.  Today there are 23 member organizations in 13 countries,
with 12.8 million individual members.  

Democratic Processes
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The second meeting of the Regional Assembly for Africa was held in
August, 1996, in Dakar, Senegal.  This was a successful meeting and 
brought together members from the West African zone and those from East,
Central and Southern Africa.  Our colleagues from Egypt also participated
actively.  It was a privilege to have the ICA President and the Director
General.

The Dakar meeting was the first one to really go into the business of the
Regional Assembly, the Nairobi meeting of 1994 having been essentially
a founding meeting.  In Dakar, reports on the work of the ICA in Africa
were received and the Four-Year Development Plans for the two Regional
Offices were approved.  The meeting supported the formation of an Africa
chapter of the International Co-operative Agriculture Organization.  The next
meeting of the Regional Assembly is planned to take place in Zambia in
1998.

The ICA offices in Africa are in Moshi, Tanzania and in Ouagadougou,
Burkina Faso.  The move to Burkina Faso was made in April 1997 from
Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.  There is also still a project office in  Gaborone,
Botswana, catering for Insurance Development.  A liaison office is
maintained in Nairobi.  CACU, an ICA member from Egypt, has offered to
support a contact office in Cairo.

Specialized Organizations
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Three ICA Specialized Organizations have regional chapters in Africa. The
Regional International Co-operative Banking Association has been
functioning well.  In the last two years however, it has shown signs of
weakening.  Similarly, the Africa chapter of ICMIF is very weak.  The
reason for deterioration in both cases is the decline in business volumes
which co-operative financial institutions have suffered under liberalization. 
They also do not receive as much external support as before.
The Human Resources Development Committee meets regularly and is
effective.  It nevertheless depends heavily on ICA and ILO COOPNET. 
The Agricultural support Committee is not operational.  Plans are under way
to establish a mechanism to network Co-operative Housing.  CICOPA is
active in Africa through projects but not as a Committee.  Representatives
from the region take part in the Global Women's Committee but have no
formal Regional Women's Committee.

The specialized  organizations have so far been more active in East, Central
and Southern Africa than in West Africa.  The goal is to cover the whole
region.

Development Partners
--------------------------
The number of development partners working with the ICA in Africa as
well as the size of their support continued to decline.

The Swedish Co-operative Centre and the ICMIF are active in East, Central
and Southern Africa.  Much work has also been done in collaboration with
the ILO COOPNET and ILO COOPREFORM during the last three years.

In West Africa collaboration exists with the Royal Norwegian Society for
Development, SOCODEVI, the FAO, The German Foundation for
International Development (DSE), ILO, and GTZ.

Activities of the Regional Offices
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ICA activities in Africa are derived from the needs of the members and are
aligned to the internal and external  environment prevailing.  Current work
is based on Four Year Development Plans approved by the General
Assembly in Dakar in August, 1996.

The activities carried out have covered the following areas:-
a.	attendance and participation at Annual General Meetings of member
	organisations and their affiliates;

b.	active contacts and collaboration with development partners and
	agencies relevant to the objectives of co-operation;

c.	guidance and advice in building of national co-operative structures;

d.	organising and running events to bring together governments and
	co-operatives in a process of dialogue for the mutual  benefits of
	both;

e.	HRD activities including seminars, workshops, networking and on
	the job training for leaders and employees;

f.	studies and consultancies as part of technical services;

g.	improvement of the co-operative environment including laws and
	policies;

h.	promotion and support to the formation of new apex co-operative
	organisations; and consolidation of existing apex co-operative
	organisations;

i.	integration and enhancement of the participation of women in
	co-operatives through training and income generating activities

j.	data base development and management;

k.	studies and follow-up workshops to support the self-adjustment
	activities of co-operatives;

l.	integration and enhancement of the participation of youth in
	co-operatives;

m.	promotion and support to the emergence and functioning of
	viable co-operative financial service organisations.

Constraints
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* 	A serious problem faced in Africa is that of lack of reliable and up-
	to-date data.  The absence of such information hampers objective
	analysis and decision.  Usually the responsibility for data collection
	and dissemination falls on several organisations and each believes
	that the other will do it.  At any rate resources for this task are not
	there and poor primary data means that there is nothing to build on;

*	 Member Organizations have difficulties in raising the resources to
	enable them to participate effectively in the democratic processes of
	the ICA.  This is a matter of grave concern.  At the same time, they
	are unable to contribute to the resources of the ICA;

* 	Internal ICA human and financial resources are inadequate in
	relation to the mission of the ICA and the needs of the members;

* 	Co-operatives are struggling in the new environment. They face
	very stiff competition both fair and unfair.  For example,
	co-operatives are known to continue to operate ethically and within
	the law while competitors have ways of evading.  Furthermore,
	some of the legislation and policies governing co-operatives are
	from the old period and put  co-operatives at a disadvantage.

* 	Other problems in the co-operatives include under-capitalisation,
	poor management, conflicts between management and elected
	leadership, incapable and uncommitted leaders, and low member
	participation.

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* Mr. Wolimbwa is Chairman of the Uganda Co-operative Alliance Ltd.
   and ICA Vice President for Africa.