Q&A: Dr Chiyoge Sifa

Regional director for Africa at the ICA

How was 2020 for ICA-Africa and for co-operatives in Africa more generally? 

I can say that it has been a tough year for both the ICA-Africa Regional Office and its members. We can call it ‘a survival year’. Just like other parts of the world, the Covid-19 pandemic brought about the most severe economic downturn the region has experienced in many years. Not forgetting other calamities like the locust invasion in Eastern Africa, climate change that has led to severe floods and droughts.

Secondly, is to thank all our members and partners for their responses and resilience during this hard time. We really congratulate our members who have walked with us by honoring their obligation of paying their membership fee to the ICA and even went extra miles to support the less fortunate and governments in combating the Covid-19 crisis. These efforts have been in terms of providing care and support to people affected by Covid-19; mobilising resources to support their communities directly or joining hands together with their governments and partners in fighting this enemy. We share our message of love and hope to all our members and cooperators across the region especially the women, youth and children who are the most affected by the pandemic. Surprisingly, the effects of this pandemic are the ones spreading and biting harder than the virus itself. More people in the region have been exposed more to unemployment, limited access to medical services, hunger and the gender-based violence that has been on the rise in the recent days.

Nevertheless, we have been able to achieve a number of activities and services to our members amidst this dramatic change to our way of life and more so on how we do businesses. Most of our engagements and activities to our members were shifted to online for business continuity and also keeping our members abreast on matters co-operative development. These engagements have also challenged us in the sense that we need to critically think about the other sectors of cooperatives in our region more so on health, consumer, worker and platform co-operatives.

Lastly, we appreciate your continued support and we remain committed to our mission of serving our members and cooperators in the region during this time and beyond.

What have you been most proud of in 2020?

We are happy that we were able to bring together co-operators, partners and other stakeholders in a regional conference that was held virtually so as to discuss the co-operatives benefit from the African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and what future negotiations will cover. This was held back to back with our 14th Regional Assembly that was held virtually for the first time. Before then, we also held other regional events like the webinar on “Covid-19 Response and Resilience of Cooperatives in Africa”, a youth webinar on “Youth Innovations for Sustainable Livelihoods in Africa: During & Post Covid-19”, a gender equality webinar on the ‘Implications of Covid-19 Impacts on Gender Equality within the cooperative Movement’ and other regional statutory meetings (board and trustees).

We carried out a number of trainings that included: the ‘Cooperation among Cooperatives: Crafting your Covid-19 Response’ in partnership with our member HealthPartners; member capacity building on ‘Functioning and Advocacy towards European Union Delegations’; the Inter-Regional online workshop on capacity building on ‘Social and Financial Education for Cooperatives’; and three ‘Health Cooperatives Stakeholders Meetings’ for Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria in collaborations with HealthParthers.

We worked with the ICA-Africa Youth Network, and were able to reach more youth with: the Go Green Campaign to promote the co-operative identity: involvement of youth in the ICA- Africa Youth Network activities: taking environmental action and work on how to mitigate climate change – SDG13; as well as displaying the role of youth and co-operatives in self-help and solidarity as vital values in the society. We received responses from 6 countries that participated in this year’s Go Green Campaign.

The participation of 13 African youth who participated in the Global Youth Forum 2020 (GYF20) and were trained on entrepreneurship so as to improve their skills and knowledge.

We are also proud of the ICA Youth Network Replication Project winners from our region that is, Enhancing Organic Food Cropping Cooperative from Cameroon and Young People’s Multi-purpose Cooperative Society from Zimbabwe. The two projects will receive some funding from the Youth Network so as to realise their ideas and help other youth who would like to replicate the same in their various communities.

The ongoing Legal Framework Analysis researches that seek to enhance the knowledge and evaluation of cooperative legislations in some African countries, with the aim to ensure that regulations acknowledge the specificities of the cooperative model and ensure a level playing field with other businesses. 13 analysis reports are already out and accessible from the www.coops4dev.coop

What were the key challenges co-ops faced?

  • Not able to do face-to-face engagements and training more so the study visits like SEWA in India due to Covid-19.
  • Covid-19 related restrictions that slowed or put to hold the members businesses.
  • Locust invasion in Eastern Africa that had an impact on the agricultural produce.
  • Hunger
  • Unemployment rate rose due to Covid-19.
  • Financial constraints to our members that led to some not honoring their subscription fee obligation.
  • Climate change that has led to extreme weather conditions mostly drought and floods.

What are ICA-Africa’s priorities for 2021?

  • Increase and retain membership.
  • Lobbying and advocacy through the African Union and Governments especially on the Cooperative Model Law and Continental Cooperative Legal Instruments.
  • Continue the research projects on Cooperative Legal Framework Analysis and two thematic studies on environment and youth.
  • Capacity-building and training sessions on cooperative related themes and members knowledge sharing.
  • Facilitating exchange programs more so the SEWA one in India.- Networking Coop to Coop Businesses e.g Alliance Africa Agricultural Organization members with Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) and other Consumer cooperatives such as CCW in Bulgaria.

In this article

Join the Conversation