KIGALI, Rwanda

The cooperative movement in Africa may have largely failed, but in the landlocked country of Rwanda they are a roaring success, providing relief to their struggling members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the eve of the International Day of Cooperatives which is being observed on Saturday, Jean Bosco Harelimana, the director-general of Rwanda Cooperatives Agency (RCA) said the pandemic has proved that a member of a cooperative cannot starve or run broke.

Ferrying passengers on his motorcycle taxi, Damascene Bimenyimana, a resident of the Rwandan capital of Kigali was earning a decent living till the outbreak of COVID-19. His earnings depended on daily wages dried after the government ordered a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus.

“It was a terrible, challenging situation; sitting at home every day without working yet there is a family to feed,” Bimenyimana said of the lockdown.

After people like him ran out of the option to borrow money from colleagues to keep the body and soul together, the motorcycle taxi cooperative stepped in to help its members to allow them to attend to their urgent requirements.

Currently, there are more than 10,000 cooperatives in Rwanda involved in different sectors such as agriculture, transport, mining, handcrafts, and trading.

With a membership of more than 5.2 million, the share capital of these cooperatives is about 52 billion Rwandan francs ($52.8 million). They also roughly have 98 billion Rwandan francs (nearly $100 million) as savings.

Harelimana said the pooling of money has helped to uplift citizens in different parts of the country. Besides, people have managed to educate their children using money from savings or solidarity funds under cooperatives.

“By pooling together people can achieve a lot more than when working on an individual basis. With close monitoring, cooperatives have the transformative power in Rwanda,” he said.

Working in partnership

Carpenters at an integrated craft production center locally known as Agakiriro in Gasabo district in the capital Kigali say they are getting the tools thanks to a cooperative.

“We work in partnership with local government leaders to do their monitoring. Cooperatives have proved to be effective in creating jobs and helping members during hard times,” said Harelimana.

According to Rwanda Cooperative Agency, the cooperatives distributed 1.4 billion Rwandan francs ($1.4 million) to nearly 500,000 members to help them to attend to food requirements between March and May last year, when the first lockdown was announced.

Harelimana said more than 400 savings and credit cooperatives have also helped in scaling up financial inclusion in the country.

Asked about the success behind the cooperatives in Rwanda, he said close monitoring and better regulation were key to their success.

The Rwanda Cooperative Agency as a regulator is mandated to sensitize people on cooperatives, monitor the progress of businesses, and also perform the audit to ensure their effective functioning.

The regulator also has inspectors who regularly inspect cooperatives not only to find out their challenges but also sensitizes them about how to operate professionally.

The agency is mandated to rein in managers who mismanage cooperatives funds, ensuring cooperatives leaders not only put members at the center of decision making but also encourage leaders to ensure transparency in all their activities.

In Rwanda, the International Day of Cooperatives on Saturday will be marked to reflect on the achievements of cooperatives over the past year in helping its members to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harelimana underlined that the pandemic interrupted operations of cooperatives, leading to a halt for some, thereby affecting net income and dividends, respectively.

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