(Source: ICA Review, Vol.91 No.2 - Annual Report 1997-1998, pp. 35-37)
3. Regional Office for West Africa (ROWA)
(Ada Souleymane Kibora - Regional Director)
At the political level, the situation in West Africa is relatively stable apart from Sierra Leone and Niger. Electoral processes are ongoing with more or less protests or acceptance according to countries. The weight and predominance of the political parties in power in most countries, are reminiscent of - or cause to fear a return to - one party systems.
Populations in general, and in particular the rural populations, believe less and less in the virtues of politics and in electoral processes. Hence the low turnouts at elections and the emergence of new types of organisations within the civil society.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of reviewing co-operative strategies and legislations, which is translated through co-operative reform programmes. Such programmes are on-going in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Niger.
One recurrent question is whether co-operative legislation should be based only on the Rochdale type or if the law must be adapted to field realities and take into account organisations having co-operative objectives and principles, but not necessarily registered as co-operatives. These new forms of organisations, which are numerous in West Africa and particularly in the Sahelian countries, are often supported by donors and NGOs which use them as vehicles to implement their own programmes. They are predominant in the sectors of cotton production and commercialisation. The new models of organisation supported by donors and NGOs are often found to be more “attractive” than co-operatives. This has led to some individual members of conventional co-operatives leaving their socieities to join the new structures.
At the economic level, it is unanimously accepted that West Africa is gradually entering a period of economic recovery and growth. However, some existing problems, such as unemployment and impoverishment, are getting worse. Sahelian countries are this year experiencing shortages in food production which may result in widespread famine. In such a context, agricultural co-operatives are affected at several levels. One problem is that they do not benefit enough from the economic revival because of internal structural constraints and markets imperfections. Members demand more and more social services (cereals supplies, health care, schools, etc.) at the risk of putting their co-operative in a situation of financial imbalance. Besides, West African Francophone countries are actively preparing for an economic and monetary integration with (inter alia) customs barriers being gradually suppressed.
Co-operatives in general, and agricultural ones in particular, have not yet taken this emerging situation into account in their reflections, strategies and planning. If nothing is done in terms of information, training and creation of new commercial networks, the consequences may be serious.
The year 1997 has been marked by the move of the Regional Office from Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) to Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). This move brought about staff changes as well as temporary disruptions in the implementation of the programme activities.
Between January and December 1997, the main activities focused on the creation of a favourable environment for co-operatives, the fight against poverty through primary co-operatives, the development of human resources, and the development of strategies.
Co-operative Policies and Legislations:
Upon request of Burkina Faso authorities, ROWA provided technical and financial support for the analysis and definition of a new co-operative policy and legislation in Burkina Faso. The analysis and definition processes involved co-operators, NGOs and consultants. The draft policy paper and the legal document are now being reviewed by the government and parliament.
This programme is being carried out in The Gambia and Senegal and is conducted by primary co-operatives and women groups. The main activities of this programme are as follows: training, saving and credit and income generating activities (handicraft, small-scale animal rearing, petty trade, etc.). This programme aims at integrating the gender approach into co-operatives and at fighting against poverty through the generation and diversification of women’s income and through their acquisition of knowledge (literacy) and know-how (technical training).
Development of Human Resources:
ROWA has been experimenting a new approach within three member organisations,
the co-operative unions of Djiboua, SCAGBO an UCAO, which have set up training
and sensitization units for the members. ROWA supports activities carried
out by these units which have been entrusted with the responsibilities
- promoting good relationships among individual members;
- strengthening members’ loyalty to their co-operatives;
- facilitating in-house training sessions which address endogenous needs and the constraints of their socio-economic environment;
- improving the brand image of unions vis-à-vis members and the environment.
The programme will cover thirty primary co-operatives and will run for three years (1997- 1999).
Besides this experimental programme, ROWA has provided support for the
- sixteen (16) staff members of INC (Cabo Verde) and DOPAG (Côte d’Ivoire) in the areas of financial analysis and co-operative audit;
- fifty (50) Board members of five (5) rice co-operatives in Côte-d’Ivoire.
Development of Strategies for Commercial Exchanges:
ROWA organised in November and December 1997 a regional study in five member organisations in Benin, Burkina, Cap Vert and Côte d’Ivoire. The goal of this study was to collect and analyse data with the view to developing a mechanism and a strategy for inter-co-operative and commercial exchanges. This has become an imperative as a result of the on-going process of the suppression of customs barriers. A regional workshop will be organised within the next six months with the view to validating the study. ROWA is an initiator and catalyst in this process.
There are eight member co-operative organisations in the region. These include five agricultural co-operatives, one health co-operative, one savings and loan co-operative and one multi-purpose co-operative. Many potential members are unable to join the ICA because of their inability to pay the annual contributions and to face the costs of their participation in ICA statutory meetings at the international level.