The nature of any emerging force, economic wise, to resist capitalist oppression depends on its mode of production and the velocity of money expended on public goods. Co-operatives are useful instruments in the anti-capitalist struggle and in so far as Ghana is trapped as a victim of such capitalist control and direction, poverty will painfully remain in the economy until Cooperatives stand firm in one way or the other. But what do you think should be the political character of cooperatives presently in Ghana? Are they uniformly positioned to withstand private control and direction? Are they capable of overcoming neoliberal environmental regimes?
The 2017 Statistical Report of the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations about the state of co-operatives is so startling that all well-meaning campaigners or crusaders against the realities of individual control of production must be concerned. According to the report, the number of new Co-operatives registered in Ghana fell from 809 in 2016 to 438 in 2017. This is nearly half down with respect to decline in rate of growth of co-operatives. Cumulatively, the number of registered co-operative rose steadily from 5,577 in 2014 to 7,097 in 2017. Despite this cumulative increase, the former data on newly registered co-operatives for 2017 alone confirms the possibility that the current economic framework is unfriendly to people starting cooperatives.
The data also shows that Agricultural Co-operatives recorded the highest of 235 newly registered Co-operatives followed by 167 in the Financial Co-operatives, 25 in Service Co-operatives and 11 in Industrial Co-operatives. Amongst all the regions Ashanti, Greater Accra, Eastern and Central had more of Service and Financial Co-operatives. Currently Agriculture Co-operatives has 1,974 registered co-operatives as being the highest.
A key indicator in measuring the growth of co-operatives is their membership size. Membership size tells about the attrition rate of these productive businesses. Membership strength of the Co-operative societies fell from 1,026,645 in 2016 to 246,807 in 2017 which is a huge loss of about 75% of national membership size. Again, this also requires some inquiry into factors behind the drop in these figures. Is it because of the unfriendly nature of the economic environment that is leading to the loss of confidence in Co-operative Societies?
Employment is also a coherent indicator of measuring the strength of cooperatives. Shamefully only 559 persons were employed by Co-operative Societies relative to 3,172 recorded in 2016. 82% decline in employment in this sector is something that calls for attention. The trend in the data should interest progressives who believe that the transformation of the economy can only take place when capital is organised in the hands of the collective groupings. It also tells us about how Capitalism is fast eroding every fibre of collective-owned productive system in Ghana through the function of neo-colonial arrangements.
But what role or what kind of cooperatives is needed in a neo-colonial economy like Ghana? According to Dr Nicholas Atampugre of Social justice Movement (SJM), cooperative role as a “possible basis for political and social transformation has been of interest to political thinkers and activists. Major socialist thinkers such as Marx, Lenin and Mao saw cooperatives as important institutions for transforming society. Whilst Marx urged working men to form producer cooperatives rather than marketing cooperatives as the pioneers had done, Lenin did not initially see much role for producer cooperatives. He argued that in rural areas, agricultural cooperatives could become an instrument for controlling the rural population and its activities.” Lenin later seemed to have changed his mind when he stated that:
“our second task is educational work among the peasants. And the economic objective of this educational work among the peasants is to organise the latter into cooperative societies. If the whole of the peasantry had been organised in cooperatives, we would by now have been standing with both feet on the soil of socialism. But the organisation of the entire peasantry in cooperative societies presupposes a standard of culture among the peasants (precisely among the peasants as the overwhelming mass) that cannot in fact be achieved without a cultural revolution”
He argues that Lenin’s contribution could be considered as providing a theoretical basis for exploring the possibility of cooperatives becoming political grassroots organisations for transformation. Lenin presented the case that an important precondition for the above is the seizure of political power by the working class in alliance with small holder farmers, and the control of the state over large scale means of production.
Dr Nicholas Atampugre also makes the case that, more recently, “NGOs are playing an important role in initiating and supporting cooperative institutions. Where they are created by government, there is often little genuine enthusiasm in cooperative activities. Although others evolve out of grassroots initiatives, they sometimes expand rapidly due to their success and soon become bureaucratised due to their popular character. In both scenarios, they are easily exploited by powerful segments within rural society.”
Ras Aswad Nkrabea is a cooperative activist who believes that cooperatives should have some sort of political character. He explains that “the fact that it is a cooperative means that is a people’s institution and so if you have a people’s institution and you are talking about national development then of course there should be some political aspect of it for the national development.” But he believes cooperatives in Ghana have become non-political like the churches. “It is worrying that they are non-political. In progressives societies cooperatives play important political role such as making their voices heard on national issues” he added.
Despite the above opinion, the record of cooperatives suggests that there are more traditional explanations for the failure of cooperatives in Africa which cannot be dismissed outright. There are problems of management and lack of accountability.
Beyond the question of management and accountability that is seen in the affairs of the Black Star Line Cooperative Credit Union (BSLCCU), Edwin Baffour who is the Vice President of the Union believes that one critical drive for people signing up with their cooperative is because of some issues happening in the diaspora like in the United States. “People are feeling less comfortable in investing in the US market. In a time where black people are feeling more oppressed under Trump they would like to search for safe and secured ventures to put their monies.” He agrees to the view that most of its members believe that resources must be geared towards fighting for the liberation of Black Africans. This is making the BSLCCU attractive to blacks in the diaspora. “And so the statistical report of membership decline is not affecting BSLCCU as an organisation”, he added even though he didn’t provide figures.