Context of Co-operatives in West Africa
Thanks to on-going reforms in West Africa and everywhere on the continent, talk of positive economic growth, the return of investors, and indeed a general revamping and a spirit of renewal is on the increase.
Despite these reforms and this positive growth, Africa continues to clock high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Despite this slight economic improvement, Africa, in certain areas and countries, is confronted with conflicts and violence. The insecurity of men and of goods, is becoming getting worse in the towns and also in the countryside.
Civil wars and armed conflicts rage on, coupled with extreme violence. Yesterday, it was Congo and Zaire. Today, it is Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The struggle for power is most often the cause of these conflicts. Should we, for all that, conclude, that Political power in Africa, can only be obtained by force and arms? Certainly not by looking at the experiences of Benin and Mali.
Bribery and Corruption are becoming the order of the day, in numerous countries. Corruption has attained such a level that donors, such as the World Bank, are conditioning their assistance with the elimination of this canker as one of their pre-requisites. The causes and solutions are investigated both at the national and international levels. In fact the fight against this canker must go on not only in our countries, but also the developed countries, as well as the multinational societies.
The economic context in West Africa is also characterised by a Regional integration in two gears. On the one hand, we have UEMOA which brings together eight countries having a common currency. And on the other hand, ECOWAS which groups together sixteen English-speaking, French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries.
In the political sphere, the democratisation process is on-going, but at varied levels. Hardly are there elections without protests. Despite its being young, democracy seems to have broken down or to be out of breath, because of lack of respect for values and democratic principles and also the absence of vision, and of projects for society, on the part of political leaders.
Armed conflicts and insecurity are the result of poor development, lack of democracy and of human rights.
Africa, which was formerly a symbol of fruitful discussions can no longer have dialogue nor share.
Material growth, and the amassing of wealth by states and individuals, prevail over human development and the promotion of moral and civic values.
It is against such a background that co-operatives forced to thrive.
Some co-operatives have chalked slight economic successes, and even some kind of prosperity due to economic reforms, with the political and legal reforms underway. This is particularly the case with savings and credit co-operatives and others working in the field of exports.
The others, on the other hand, find themselves at cross-roads, confronted with enormous difficulties and issues as to their survival.
This is the case with the majority of agricultural or handicraft co-operatives. The Union of Agricultural Co-operatives in the Gambia, which have just been dissolved, is a perfect illustration of this situation.
Government policies, on account of SAP and privatisation, have changed over a short period of time, moving from support, to a total withdrawal, and even an indifference towards co-operatives. The governments, disoriented, now lack adequate policies for dealing with co-operatives.
If the co-operatives are legally accepted, as being private organisations, they are subject to political envy, especially, during elections.
On the economic front, they must adapt to the market, and be sufficiently competitive, or else they disappear. At the same time, they are required to insure the functions of local and/or social development, which, among others, has been the cause of their failure in the past.
These political and economic contradictions, certainly account for the incoherence which often arises with new co-operative legislation, and some development strategies particularly in the agricultural sector.
However, in some countries, the agricultural co-operatives and the farmer organisations have come together to create lobbies, to defend their interests.
The Federation of the Producers' Union of Benin (FUPRO) or the National Council of Rural Concentration of Senegal, have become essential government partners, and donors of their respective countries.
In Côte d'Ivoire, the Regional Union of Savannah Co-operative Enterprises (URECOS-CI) has submitted, without success, a bid for an international bid for tenders for the privatisation of a mill for cotton processing. Even if the objective was not achieved, the example has a symbolic value.
These three examples enable us to draw the following conclusions:
The co-operatives are aware and must be even more conscious of the fact that, their salvation will not come from outside, but from within their outfits. The challenges to arise, and the battles to be won, are both political and economical at the same time. These challenges, and battles are at their doorstep, and the little they can do is to gather the courage to question themselves, and adjust themselves with regards to the internal constraints and the demands of the public.
Regional Director - ICA/ROWA