THE recognition of cooperatives in the mainstream economic development by President Lungu is a major step of taking development to low-income communities especially in rural areas where young people, women, girls and people with disabilities tend to be victims of hunger, poverty, inequality and exclusion.
The cooperatives business model is often born out of adversity that leads into opportunities as they operate in all sectors of the economy enjoying the legal personality of limited liability found in some conventional businesses.
Essentially the development of cooperatives depends on the policy adopted by the government based on the political and administrative environment that uphold tenets of democratic principles and respect for human rights enhancing freedom of association in line with Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
Moreover, cooperatives are well organised entities that reach the neglected populations and act as alternatives to inclusive growth with the potential to create jobs and improve income levels. They can also adopt a system that encourages and supports member-controlled economic associations based on self-help through group initiatives.
The government can go further to recognise the economic and social importance of cooperatives in improving the livelihoods of the poor in society. This should be the starting point of revamping the cooperative movement which was neglected in the early 1990s following the liberal policy reforms.
It should be known that the economic development that excludes people has far-reaching effects on society, the economy and political stability like what happened in Zambia between 1991 and 2001 where many people became insolvent, poverty, hunger, lack of markets, lack of access to agricultural inputs and yellow maize as relief food was the order of the day due to low yields of corn production experienced in the country. This was a hostile and laissez faire policy on cooperative development which was unsuitable for a growing economy.
So the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry must take up the role to revamp the primary cooperatives by providing an enabling environment that allows the establishment of various types of cooperatives potentially of renewable energy, housing, construction, health, utility, banking and insurance cooperatives in order to enhance equal distribution of wealth to low-income groups usually neglected.
Kenya has successful insurance and cooperative banks while Lesotho with Boliba Savings and Credit Unions is a driving force for workerâ€™s loans which is a lesson for Zambia.
The supportive policy is required in creating an enabling environment in social, economic, cultural and environment involving members of cooperatives who should invest in renewable energy scaling-up programme under the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and would-be developers. It is often said that in numbers there is power and ownership resides in people financing the projects. We need to retain the economic power through cooperatives if policy-makers formulate policies that allow Zambians to partner with foreign companies on equal footing so that profits are not freely externalised.
As Zambia is becoming an attractive destination for investment, certain investment and taxation policies must be revisited as we end up with no capital to inject in the economy. For sure as a member of the United Nations, we should develop national policies in line with the International Labour Organisation Recommendation (ILO R193/2002) on the promotion of cooperatives.
The government should make the teaching of cooperatives in schools compulsory in order to impart skills of cooperation at an early stage in life. Zambia can learn from Panama that established an institute working with the youthâ€™s cooperatives on the need to fight poverty, hunger and promote culture and traditions centred on agricultural and entrepreneurship development. The persons with disabilities and the welfare of women and girls through cooperatives must be well defined as the challenges of leadership, capital, low business activities and exclusion are looked at.
While the government stands ready to support cooperatives, the general membership must mobilise enough capital, improve on leadership and governance, and develop strategic plans and all members to have a clear vision of the cooperative philosophy.
What Zambia is going through after 51 years of political independence is about who owns and controls the economy. The liberty of democracy is not safe if people tolerated the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state then our independence become meaningless since the economy is run and enjoyed by few individuals with fascist ideologies.
Surely cooperatives, if properly mentored, can give immerse hope to the declining economy that requires the full participation of all Zambians while President Lungu provides an enabling environment where profits, ownership, infrastructure, jobs and profits realised stay within the communities.
The author is a cooperative activist and founder of Knowcoop Business Academy in Chigola.