10 Lessons from Kenya's Remarkable Cooperatives

1. Steal a good idea from the British and turn it against them

Modern cooperativism arrived in Kenya during the colonial period, as a means of organizing British rule. At that time, black Africans were not allowed to be members of official cooperatives.

Yet, explained Esther Gicheru, director of Kenya's Institute of Co-operative Development, "even before the colonial government came, we had traditional cooperatives. When people worked on small-scale farms, they would trade off helping one another. It was better than working alone." This tradition of coming together—in Swahili, harambee, which is the country's official motto—helped Kenyans forge an identity apart from their colonial past.

Over the course of the transition to independence, cooperativism became a pillar of "African socialism" in Kenya, a means of securing economic independence alongside political autonomy.

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