Book Review: Meghji Z., Kwayu C., & Meghji R., The Woman Co-operator and Development (Kijabe: Maarifa Publishers Limited, 1985) pp.127

Reviewer: Aikande Kwayu

An interest on Co-operatives and their positive role in rural development is re-emerging in Tanzania. The passing of new Cooperative Societies Act (Tanzania) in June 2013 is powerful evidence to this. The Poverty and Human Development Reports (Tanzania) of 2007 onwards also speak about cooperatives. The reports acknowledge the need and potential role of farmers associations in improving productivity and welfare of farmers’ hence rural development. Poverty in Tanzania is a rural phenomenon and much related to agriculture. More than 70% of the population dwells in rural areas. The main economic activity is small-scale agriculture. The impressive rising economic growth, which has been 7% average over the last decade, has not trickled down to rural areas. Poverty rates remain high. 67.9% of population still lives under the poverty line (UNDP, 2013).

 With such a gloomy paradoxical picture, development-loving people in Tanzania have been asking a question, what can be done?  This is the source of the renewed interest of Co-operatives in Tanzania.

 Strikingly, Zakia Meghji, Clement Kwayu, and Ramadhan Meghji realized the potential of co-operatives in driving rural development 30 years ago. In this book, they rightly argue that ‘…stability and development. The lubricant for the levers is the co-operative’ (p.91).

 The most impressive aspect of the book is its focus on women. Literature and research has it that women are the champions of development. This book uniquely links two drivers of development- women and co-operatives. The book demonstrates how participation of women in co-operatives leads to improvement in economy of households, family stability, and development in general.

The authors are experts of cooperatives. They worked as lecturers at the Co-operatives College in Moshi (now MUCCOBS) and researchers at the International Cooperative Alliance. The book is thus rich in insight. They collected case study data from Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. In this respect, the book is rich of case studies from different countries. In that light, it gives a comparative picture, which strengthen the analysis of why certain cooperatives were successful and why others were not.

 The cases and analyses above were not done in vacuum. The first chapter of the book provides an excellent theoretical framework substantiated by theories of development and feminism.  The chapter also provides a historical background of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Tanzania.  Following that were the rich case analyses giving details of different co-operatives societies in Tanzania, Lesotho, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, and Swaziland. The analyses were interdisciplinary. Carefully, the authors consider various variables from economic, social, and political perspectives that could explain women participation and success.  For example, it was evident that the policies of mid 1970s in Tanzania were not favorable for cooperatives and that could partly explain challenges that cooperative societies faced during that period and after. The authors also looked at the issues of governance and value systems on the side of cooperative officers and related departments. Interesting also, was the fact that the authors presented cases of different types of cooperatives, such as agricultural marketing cooperatives, workers cooperatives, saving and credit cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, production cooperatives (poultry, tailoring, and handicrafts cooperatives). Such examples are eye opener to different opportunities of establishing a cooperative society.

 The final chapter of the book gives a way forward towards more and better participation of women in cooperatives. This chapter is relevant to this renewed debate on cooperatives. The issue of low women participation in cooperatives as presented in the book is still a problem in existing cooperatives societies. If we want rural development to happen and be sustainable women have to be actively engaged. This is especially the case with agriculture marketing cooperatives where the man is a principle member while it is often the woman who works on the farm to produce that cash crop. The cases of Botswana show that due to greater degree of independence among women in Botswana cooperatives were relatively better than in other countries such as Swaziland. We all know how well Botswana is doing economically and I am pretty confident that the independence of women may have been a significant contributory factor to its economic development.  The book ends with   a clause ‘ Let the woman of Africa come forth and Africa will blossom’ (p. 126).

 As much as the book was written in 1985, it is contents are still extremely relevant to our debates in cooperatives. I urge all development loving people in Tanzania to read this book if they want to engage women in rural development efforts and actually to reach that goal!

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