Cooperatives are embedded in daily life in Rwanda. According to government statistics from 2018, 43% of Rwandese aged 16 or over are members of a co-op – largely due to a concerted effort from the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) to grow the sector over the last 13 years. The RCA is the public institution in charge of the promotion, registration and regulation of cooperatives in the country where cooperatives are seen as an instrumental part of achieving Rwanda’s Vision 2020. The ultimate objectives of the vision are to reduce poverty and health problems, and make the nation united and democratic. Cooperatives are also seen as actors in a second development document adopted by the government: the Economic, Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy II (EDPRS II).
In 2005 there were 919 cooperatives registered in Rwanda. Last year that number stood at 9,323, with nearly 4 million members, operating in agriculture and livestock (45%), trading (13%), handicraft (11%) and service industries (10%), as well as transport, housing, mining and fishing. These businesses are then organised within unions, federations and confederations.
There are also 448 neighbourhood (umurenge) saving and credit cooperatives (U-SACCOs). According to the RCA, savings in U-SACCOs increased from FRw6.3bn (US$6.8m, £5.4m) in 2010 to FRw59.76bn (US$64.4m, £51m) in February 2018. The U-SACCO project formed part of the National Savings Mobilisation Strategy adopted for creating inclusive financial systems in Rwanda, with a mission of increasing access to finance to local populations. The first U-SACCO was established in 2009 and today, the organisations continue to encourage cooperation among members, and provide financial education. Over 70% of loans by U-SACCOs between 2009-2018 were granted to men, 26% to women and the rest for solidarity groups.
“The government of Rwanda views cooperatives as a potential vehicle through which the cooperative members can create employment and expand access to income-generating activities, develop their business potential through education and training; increase savings and investment, and improve social well-being with special emphasis on gender equality, housing, education, health care and community development,” says the RCA.
In addition, there is an awareness that as the number of cooperatives in different social-economic sectors increases, these cooperatives “create employment and pay taxes which contribute to the development of the country”.
The work of the organisation has strong support from the president, Paul Kagame, who has been in post since 2000.
“The work cooperatives have accomplished across the country is proof of what we are capable of achieving,” he said, speaking to a federation of cooperatives in 2015. “When everyone has a stake and moves together, no one is left behind. Rwanda will move forward not through the hard work of the few but of each of you.”
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