The coronavirus pandemic has killed an estimated 2 million jobs in Kenya and forced many into the informal economy. However, Kenyans also have a secret that keeps many of them afloat financially – the largest cooperative savings and credit movement in Africa. With more than 14 million members making monthly dues, Kenya’s co-operatives offer loans during troubled times that help many weather the pandemic or even start their own businesses.
Thirty-year-old Judy Muthama sold shoes and utensils in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum in central Nairobi.
Sales were good until the coronavirus pandemic wiped out their business. But she’s starting her business again with a $ 600 loan from a credit and credit union of which she has been a member for three years.
Muthama says if it hadn’t been for the cooperative, it would have closed its business. She says it’s a cooperative that has improved its situation every time it ran into financial difficulties. She says she’s going to the cooperative to borrow money so she can keep the business going. Otherwise, says Muthama, it would be out of business long ago.
Muthuma is one of around 14 million Kenyans who are members of cooperatives that rely on monthly membership fees to survive.
Austin Oduor is the chairman of the Uprising Housing Cooperative, whose savings union has 834 members. Since March, he says, the union has seen monthly collections drop by 80 percent, but is still helping members get through tough economic times.
“While they value the cooperative, we have worked with them on a number of things. We gave them meal vouchers, handwashes, masks. We gave some of them loans to bring their children back to school, ”he said.
Kristin Wilcox, the director of a USAID CLEAR program that works closely with the cooperatives in Kenya, said she admires the initiative that drives the groups.
“There is by nature no one outside to help these members achieve their goals. It is based entirely on their own energies and their own collectivization skills, ”she said. “I find that exciting because there is no one, no man behind the curtains, there is no one there at the end of the day who does most of the profit. What they can achieve is alone. “
Isaac Nyamongo, assistant vice chancellor of the Cooperative University of Kenya and a member of the Kenya Cooperative Coronavirus Response Committee, said they helped 44,000 people.
“As a committee, we set up what is known as a co-op kit, and in this kit we have provided some basic foodstuffs for the households at risk, including masks for prevention,” he said. “We have also provided disinfectants in this kit.” And soap. The whole idea was that it was important to us to provide the households at risk with food, but also to give them a way to prevent infection. ”
The cooperatives are likely to remain active in the coming months. Kenya has eased restrictions that have opened up the economy, but the increased number of positive coronavirus cases could slow economic recovery.