Obituary: Sam Mshiu, leading light of Tanzanian co-operation

A tireless worker for co-op development in his own country and across Africa

Sam Mshiu (1944-2020) was born in Moshi, Tanzania – described by the International Labour Organization as “the most co-operative town on the African continent”.

Home to Kilimanjaro Native Co-operative Union (KNCU) and Africa’s first Co-operative University, the town was a formative influence on Mr Mshiu who would became a cooperative promoter – first in Tanzania, then across Africa, and later globally. 

He wrote several Matcom co-op training manuals, was a regional coordinator for the ILO’s Coopnet and Coopreform programmes, and worked with the ILO’s Cooperative Facility for Africa. 

Paying tribute, the ILO said: “Sam believed in the virtues of co-operation, and therefore found it easy to persuade others to join the co-operative movement.” 

The ILO added that in 2002, the government of Oromia, a federal state within Ethiopia, issued a certificate thanking the ILO organisation for its support for co-operative development within that state.

“But it was actually Sam who had initiated this programme, inviting officials from Oromia to visit successful Kenyan coffee marketing co-operatives. When they returned, they founded what was to become the Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union, which has gained worldwide reputation.”

It added: “Sam was not just a co-operative expert; he was a gentleman, in the truest sense of the word: always calm, always humble, always polite, always dressed impeccably, and always displaying that mildly ironic smile when observing the agitations of us youngsters. Sam had seen it all but was decent enough to let us try and fail for ourselves.

“Sam will be dearly missed, but he will not be forgotten. His contributions have shaped the African co-operative movements for generations to come, and thousands of co-operative members and leaders have benefited from his passion and wisdom.”

His fellow Tanzanian co-operator Albert Omar Mruma told the ILO: “He was a great cooperative development practitioner, well versed in the cooperative situation in all African countries, easily accessible, anxious to support others to excel in their carriers, faithful and truthful and conscious of quality of work. We have lost a co-operative development giant.”