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In Kenya, an emerging approach to conflict resolution is building a culture of cooperation

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The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) desk is launched in Nandi County. By avoiding costly court battles, cooperatives can preserve valuable resources while fostering a culture of cooperation and mutual respect.

In Kenya’s dynamic cooperative landscape, conflicts occasionally disrupt the smooth operation of these member-owned enterprises. Because of their democratic structure, a co-op’s ownership is shared among its members, making disputes among and between members and their co-op leadership inevitable. Decisions around leadership, finance, payments and elections drive most disputes within co-ops, while payment disagreements often arise between co-ops and external parties.

To tackle these internal and external disputes, and ensure they don‚Äôt damage co-op operations and finances, Kenya’s cooperative sector has adopted a transformative mediation approach called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). NCBA CLUSA‚Äôs Creating and Environment for Cooperative Expansion (CECE) project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)‚Äôs Cooperative Development Program supported this initiative led by the Co-op Alliance of Kenya (CAK). Since then, county government cooperative extension officers in Meru and Nandi counties have championed ADR services as a powerful tool to resolve both internal and external disputes at co-ops.

According to the Cooperative Societies Act, unlike traditional methods that often escalate tensions and drain resources, ADR offers a more efficient and cost-effective avenue for resolution. Disputes within Kenya’s 24,000+ cooperatives are typically directed to the National Tribunal or Court of Law. However, if every co-op channeled their disputes to these outlets, resolving that volume of disputes would take an inordinate amount of collective time and resources to compensate lawyers. This underscores the need for ADR at the grassroots level, for every co-op across Kenya.

Instead of resorting to cumbersome legal proceedings, cooperative management committees now have the opportunity to bring disputes before their members in a general assembly. If consensus remains elusive, the matter is referred to the Cooperative Tribunal for adjudication. By avoiding costly court battles, cooperatives can preserve valuable resources while fostering a culture of cooperation and mutual respect.

In 2020, NCBA CLUSA’s CDP/CECE project in partnership with CAK trained nine cooperative extension officers from Nandi  and Meru county government Cooperative Offices on ADR. After this training, ADR desks were launched and each county appointed one officer to manage their ADR desk. The ADR desks have become critical services providers, as evidenced by the steady stream of cases they have received.

Since their launch, ADR desks have proven to be a successful tool to amicably resolve cooperative disputes. Of the 95 cases brought to the ADR desks, 80 have been resolved amicably (50 in Nandi and 30 in Meru), while 15 cases are still in the process of resolution. ADR has also proved less costly because the parties involved do not have to incur in lawyers’ expenses or travel costs to attend court or National Tribunal. ADR cases take less time to resolve than litigation in court or National Tribunal. With ADR, cases take a maximum of three months to be resolved, while resolution at a tribunal takes at least a year.

ADR desks also save the time of local government officials who many times are asked to intervene in these disputes. ‚ÄúI have stopped receiving complaint calls from cooperatives on disputes because the [Cooperative Officer] and colleagues are handling the cases at the cooperatives and county desk level,” said Nandi County‚Äôs Executive Committee Member Dr. Kiplimo Lagat. Moreover, with ADR, all parties involved in the dispute are winners because the case is solved amicably, which contributes to cohesion within co-ops and communities.

NCBA CLUSA’s Cooperative Ecosystem and Social Inclusion (CESI) project under the current round of CDP funding continues to collaborate with the Meru and Nandi County governments on their successful alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs. The quarterly ADR feedback meetings during which ADR desk staff and NCBA CLUSA staff share experiences, information and statistics have continued. There is great demand for ADR expansion in other counties in Kenya, like neighboring Uasin Gishu County. The CDP/CESI project will continue building on the success of ADR desks by expanding its reach to other counties and facilitating linkages between ADR desks and the National Tribunal.

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