Kenya saw its first case of COVID-19 on March 13, and the Ministry of Health fears that if mitigation efforts are not implemented and followed, cases could skyrocket to as many as 10,000 by the end of April. The government has acted quickly to close schools and impose a nationwide curfew, while also issuing guidance on hygiene and social distancing.
The cooperative sector also feels it has an important role to play in responding to COVID-19. The sector represents over 14 million members across 24,000 cooperatives and accounts for 35% of national savings; savings that key sector stakeholders say it is ready and willing to mobilize. Lifting up cooperative principles 5 (“Education, Training and Information”) and 7 (“Concern for the Community”), the State Department of Cooperatives created the Cooperative Coronavirus Response Committee (CCRC) to bolster government action combatting COVID-19, while also ensuring a central place for cooperatives in Kenya’s post-pandemic reconstruction.
The CCRC draws members from ten key stakeholder organizations, including the State Department of Cooperatives, Cooperative Alliance of Kenya (CAK)—which will serve as joint secretary of the Committee—National Co-operatives Housing Union (NACHU), Kenya Union of Savings & Credit co-operatives (KUSCCO), Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority (SASRA), and others. The CCRC promises to monitor and disseminate information on COVID-19 to members of the cooperative sector and the public, as well as lobby the government to provide relief to cooperatives once the pandemic is over. The Committee also plans to repurpose facilities for quarantine use and offer financial assistance to cooperative members.
Many of these CCRC members partner with NCBA CLUSA, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), and Global Communities on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Cooperative Development Program (CDP). NCBA CLUSA, WOCCU and Global Communities are determining how their CDP projects can best support the CCRC’s critical work.
Swift action to combat COVID-19 has not only taken place at the national level, but also at the county level and among individual cooperatives. One example is the Lelchego Dairy Cooperative Society in Nandi County, an NCBA CLUSA partner on its CDP project, Creating an Environment for Cooperative Expansion (CECE).
Lelchego Dairy Cooperative Society has 6,449 members, of which 51% are women. Due to its leadership in gender equity, Lelchego was invited to host a regional International Women’s Day celebration in early March. However, the event was canceled as COVID-19 cases began to spread outside of Asia and Europe into Africa and the Americas, and the threat of an outbreak in Kenya loomed.
Members of Lelchego’s leadership did not allow this last-minute change of plans to dampen their spirits. Treasurer Ruth Kosgei and Manager Samuel Samoei redirected their efforts to tackle COVID-19 head-on in their community. Ruth and Samuel, in addition to six women of Lelchego’s membership, are currently carrying out several mitigation measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19 among their fellow members, their members’ children, milk transporters, Nandi County Dairy Cooperative Union members, and the surrounding community.
For instance, the women are educating children on COVID-19 symptoms, proper hand washing techniques, and the importance of social distancing so they can better understand why they are not allowed at school and how to protect themselves from getting sick.
They also developed a platform to disseminate information from the Ministry of Health to their members and those from the Nandi County Dairy Cooperative Union. Additional measures include setting up public hand washing facilities with soap and water and providing COVID-19-specific financial guidance to borrowers of an affiliated savings and credit cooperative (SACCO).
Despite the necessity of these services in their community, the Lelchego women face several challenges that could potentially set them back as the virus progresses and systems break down. Currently, there are shortages of sanitizers in supermarkets and shops, and movement is restricted. Furthermore, Lelchego lacks funds to maintain its communication platform or purchase adequate supplies and equipment over the long run. However, the Lelchego women have shown a strong resolve to protect their community putting themselves at the frontlines of this pandemic, and with the government ramping up its efforts nationwide, it seems that they will be able to continue their formidable fight against the virus.