By Kainomugisha Carol
On 6th July 2019, cooperators all over the world gathered to celebrate the 96th International Day of Cooperatives under the theme “COOP 4 DECENT WORK”. The day is always celebrated every 1st Saturday of July which marks a centenary of the formation of the International Cooperatives Alliance.
In Uganda, celebrations started on 27th June with a week load of Corporate Social Responsibility activities which ended on Friday 5th July 2019 with the main celebrations happening on Saturday 6th July 2019 at Wakiso District Headquarters.
This year’s celebrations were co-hosted by Walimu SACCOs Union Limited, an umbrella organization for all teachers’ SACCOs across Uganda, Cooperative Insurance Company Limited in association with Uganda Cooperative Alliance, the Uhuru Institute for Social Development and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MoTIC).
The week long activities that started on 1st July, commenced with a market cleaning exercise in Nakawa market and Entebbe, tree planting on Tuesday, blood donation on Wednesday, and finally a medical camp, sport gala & a symposium on Friday 5th July.
Over 800,000 trees were planted all over Uganda and Gomba district was chosen as the focal point of tree planting activity where Walimu SACCOs Union planted about 5 acres of trees which were named the Walimu SACCOs Union park. Cooperators chose to plant trees this year in order to increase the forest cover which has gone down over the years due to deforestation for charcoal and timber among other reasons. This has come with adverse climate changes which have affected farming practices across the country.
I was able to learn for a fact that SACCOs play a key role in helping the common man, to access low cost loans as opposed to commercial banks that take about Ug.shs.25 off every Ug.shs.100 on top of asking for collateral and money lenders who take Ug.shs.75 out of every Ug.shs.100 after taking collateral as well.
From the address of the State Minister for Cooperatives, I further leant that there is no use in having our children study and cram books like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, rather our children should be taught about cooperatives right from primary to develop a savings and trade culture. Cooperatives as a subject should be examinable at O’level and A’level so that by the time a child is in senior six, he/she has savings as a culture embedded in them. After all the bible guides us in Proverbs 22:6; Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
While at the planting ceremony, one of the residents of Gomba district, a teacher called John, noted that his grandfather left 200 acres of land for their father, Mr. Kyibaju to inherit. Mr. Kyibaju who inherited the land sold off 120 acres leaving only 80 acres for his generation. Because John, the resident grew up to become a teacher, he joined a teachers’ SACCO from school and he has been able to develop the 80 acres of land he inherited through agriculture. He has also managed to increase the land to 90 acres by borrowing cheaply from his SACCO. John, has also received financial advice from Walimu SACCO Union which has enabled him to successfully practice both commercial and subsistence agriculture. He can now comfortably take good care of his family.
A note for the public;
Uganda today has over 16,000 registered cooperatives. As Ugandans, we should seize the opportunity to join a SACCO be it as teachers, nurses, students, journalists name it. As the old saying goes, there is safety in numbers and cooperatives come with bargaining power for good prices in the case of farmers, they provide a better negotiating platform for support from government.
SACCOs primarily encourage us to develop a savings culture, they offer low cost collateral free loans, financial advisory services, a platform to develop leadership skills, team and change management.
The government of President Museveni has actually gone a long way in providing the necessary legal framework by amending the Cooperatives Act CAP 112 to strengthen legislation and supervision of all types of Cooperatives, guarantee safety of member savings and improve governance for the sustainability of cooperative initiatives through regular audits and term limits on leadership in cooperatives across the country.
Ugandans therefore ought to embrace cooperatives for their own development. According to Hon. Ngobi Gume, Cooperatives have potential to open up their own commercial bank within the shortest time possible in the sense that if 200,000 teachers under the Walimu SACCOs Union, saved Ug.shs. 50,000 a month, it would amount to Ug.shs. 120 Billion a year and Ug.shs.600 billion in 5 years. According to Bank of Uganda, the minimum requirement to open a commercial bank is only Ug.shs. 25 Billion. And remember, the 200,000 teachers under the Walimu SACCOs Union are only a fraction, of the 12 million cooperators in Uganda. For anyone who doubts that Cooperators in Uganda are a force to reckon with, please do the maths.
The writer is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.