The Acoli Cultural Institution has included all local leaders in the management of cooperatives, with the hope that they will build confidence in the members, and provide needed technical guidance.
The move is part of the latest attempt by the institution to revive the Acoli Cultural and Trade Unions (ACTU) in the sub-region.
In 2019, the Acoli Cultural Institution, under its Production and Investment department, started plans to revive village cooperatives across the 54 chiefdoms in the sub-region, to boost food production and income through large scale agriculture.
The leaders included in the drive to revive the cooperatives are from a wide range of sectors, including food, drugs and agriculture industry; land, environment, property and construction industry; education, culture, sports & tourism industry, and information, communication and transport industry among others.
According to the proposed plan, all district chairpersons will automatically become coordinators of District Cooperative & Trade Unions (DCTUs) and the parish chiefs will become coordinators of the Parish Producer’s Cooperative Societies (PPCSs).
David Livingstone Amone, the Production and Investment Minister at Acoli Cultural Institution, says the cultural body has already designed and distributed doctrines for all the districts, sub-counties, parishes and villages in the sub-region, to enable the leaders coordinate the revival of inclusive, multifunctional and multi-sector cooperatives in their respective jurisdictions.
Amone explains that the constitution is to guide the cooperatives in organizing themselves in joint multi sector businesses to ensure both food and financial security.
“Our intent is to have multi-sector cooperatives and not single-sector that only major in one crop or enterprise. This will ensure that many farmers join cooperatives, knowing that there are varieties of enterprises to choose from.”
Amone says that the aim of revamping ACTU, is also to ensure that administrative units are not only handling administration, but business as well.
“Our intent is to transform the local government units into economic units, where the key leaders will be the board members of the cooperatives, but the business community or farmers will be in charge of daily running of the cooperative,” he said.
Amone says understanding the concept of cooperatives has also been one of the main factors stopping people from joining cooperatives, so all the leaders in their various capacities in all sectors will help simplify the hard concepts to the lay people or members to understand and be willing to join cooperatives for collective benefit.
He says the cultural institution is already working with umbrella cooperative Unions such as West Acoli Cooperative Union Limited, WACU and East Acoli Cooperative Union, EACU so that the community members turn administrative units into economic units.
What local leaders say
Michael Lakony, the LC V of Amuru district, who is slated to be the coordinator of DCTU in his district, argues that including local leaders in the running of ACTUs will only bear fruit if there are laws to govern the activities of the cooperatives, especially in the marketing of produce.
“The people who are drawing cooperatives back are the middlemen and the capitalists who are taking advantage of the privatization or the economy. This means if there are no laws set, for instance, to regulate the price of produce, they will continue to exploit the farmers as they enrich themselves,” Lakony said.
Bonny Anywar, the LC III of Atanga Sub-County in Pader district thinks that involving grassroots leaders in the management of cooperatives will lessen the burden of work on leaders of the cooperatives, and generate more creative ways of getting more money out of their enterprises.
Kenneth Oketayot Aroo, the LC III of Kitgum Matidi Sub county in Kitgum district, applauded the Acoli Cultural Institution’s initiative to revive the cooperatives, but feared that it might die out during implementation because of selfishness of leaders.
Oketayot, who is also the chairperson of all LC IIIs in Kitgum district, notes that in the 1980s and early 90s, cooperatives were vibrant because leaders were transparent and honest, and cooperative members did not need to be coerced to join.
“In the past, societies were present in all parishes and whenever one harvested, they would willingly take their produce to the society stores and wait to sell collectively, but these days, people want to sell their produce at their own price. Leaders also mind about their welfare before thinking of their electorate,” Oketayot said.
Although the initiative to revive ACTU started in mid-2019, Oketayot says he is hearing about the development for the first-time from theCooperator reporter, something he said is already a gap in the drive.
“There is already a gap in this initiative because not all the grassroots leaders are aware of it. You cannot have a day of ideation and the next day you want to cultivate your idea before setting a strong foundation,” Oketayot said.
“The first thing they should have done is to ensure that all key stakeholders in the grassroots who interact with cooperatives in the local areas are involved, for us to have a platform where we can share ideas and identify the gaps in their proposal, before implementation begins,” Oketayot said.
According to the ACTU constitution which was signed by the various leaders in April 2019, the revival of the ACTU is aimed at “strengthening the existing farmers’ groups, cooperatives, businesses and community development programs..”
Violating cooperative principles?
However, it is uncertain how the Acoli Cultural Institution’s move to conscript local leaders into cooperatives will be harmonised with the fundamental cooperative principle of “Voluntary and Open membership” and that of “Autonomy and Independence”.