The 17th SACCA Congress was organized by the African Confederation of Cooperative Saving and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA) on October 26-28 in Kigali Rwanda. The congress gathered some 700 participants, mostly representing Saving and Credit Cooperatives (or SACCOs) and Credit Unions from 13 African countries. The event highlighted the importance of financial cooperatives in an era of increasing economic inequality, market-power concentration and deep mistrust in conventional financial institutions. The congress encouraged all African SACCOs and Credit Unions to promote and facilitate financial inclusion, especially of youth. Including young members into SACCOs and Credit Unions was not only advocated as the right thing to do, but also as the right way for these organizations to grow. However, growth needs to be accompanied by improved governance, management and leadership. The latter is the area where most capacity building efforts should focus.
For this reason and in the context of this Congress, EDC was invited by NCBA-CLUSA to give a one day Cooperative Research Seminar to a group of 20 leaders, managers and governors of major Kenyan SACCOs and Credit Unions. The discussions that characterized this session emphasized that SACCOs in Kenya are among the largest and most sophisticated cooperative enterprises to be found in Africa. SACCOs appear to be increasingly popular and successful also in other East African countries. The rise of SACCOs in this region started when traditional and multipurpose cooperatives, providing both agricultural and financial services, were gradually converted into specialized cooperatives. This shift in policy boosted the rise of SACCOs on one hand and agribusiness cooperatives on the other. This specialization process was driven by the need to reduce the paramount complexity and inefficiencies of multipurpose cooperatives. Yet, some of the synergies between agricultural and financial services were inevitably lost in the process. Although SACCOs’ members include farmers that are also members of agri-coops, most of the growth recorded by SACCOs in recent year came from urban areas and from the inclusion of civil servants (teachers, policemen, NGOs’ officers, bureaucrats, etc.). Yet, SACCOs are nowadays starting to look back at agriculture and explore opportunities to invest in agribusiness, and especially in cooperative agribusiness. For these reasons decision makers from governments, donor agencies and civil society organizations are increasingly promoting rural cooperation models that require the simultaneous development of SACCOs and agri-coops, usually under common umbrella organizations or unions.