ACU – Afrikan Cooperative Credit Union Study Group Position statement

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In October 2017 the Afrikan Cooperative Credit Union decided to form a study group to explore the benefits and feasibility of a credit union.[1] Below is the position statement produced by the Credit Union Study Group setting out what the credit union will do, how it will do it, who its members will be, and why this initiative is  needed.

Meeting the Financial Needs of African People

Since 2012, credit unions in the UK have been allowed to lend to their members for business purposes. The ACU is seeking to build a credit union focused on the financial needs of its members, and to promote cooperative enterprise in the community.[2] Our aim is to provide ways to help everyone in our community live more fulfilled lives by saving, pooling and sharing our wealth, and providing more secure livelihoods.

Our credit union will:

  • Provide savings and loans services of a typical credit union, focused on the needs of its members;
  • Offer loans to members to help finance cooperative enterprises;
  • Provide advice and support to members seeking to establish cooperative enterprises.

In so doing we are building on the tradition of African People from the Caribbean who set up the very first credit unions in England in the 1960s.

Building Our Membership

The common bond is membership of the Afrikan Cooperative Union. So, anyone who is a member of the cooperative is eligible to join the African Cooperative Credit Union (ACCU). The strategy for building our membership is based on identifying members’ financial circumstances and needs, and creating effective ways to meet them. Our focus will be on three important groups:

  • Business owners whose businesses could be converted into cooperatives: for example sole traders, artisans, craft people, and professionals etc;
  • The employed who could combine with others to form businesses based on their skills: educators, social carers, cultural workers, builders and property managers;
  • The under and unemployed who could be assisted to establish and develop secure and rewarding livelihoods within a cooperative framework.

The Credit Union – A Financial Cooperative

The credit union is a type of financial cooperative. According to the World Council of Credit Unions, as of 2016 there were 68,000 credit unions in 109 countries serving 235 million members. Countries such as Barbados, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Senegal, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, and many others have strong credit union cultures that represent an enduring presence throughout the African diaspora.

Credit unions offer unique access to financial services in many ways. In particular, they have a proven track record of supporting the needs of their membership and protecting the wealth of the community against greed, reckless management and unfair distribution. They typically have the following features:

  • Owned and controlled by members with a common bond, e.g. community or profession;
  • Committed to helping members thrive through saving and access to money when needed;
  • Focused on including the poor and marginalised;
  • Provision of savings accounts, loans, insurance and money transfer services, that are designed, priced, and managed democratically.

Living Cooperatively – Our Common Heritage

Humans have always sought to live in harmony with nature and one another. There is a lot of evidence showing that societies which have a greater proportion of their members who act co-operatively, do better at surviving natural challenges and social competition than those that do not.[3]

This approach remains a rich, thriving, and resilient global tradition. The widespread culture of individualism, hyper-competition, and dog-eat-dog ethics as a preferred way of living, is relatively recent AND in the minority. Cultivating and sharing nature’s wealth is a major part of African civilisation.

Today, cooperative cultures are practised successfully in many African communities. Championing cooperative principles is in keeping with our rich legacy and thriving cultures, exemplified by ‘Partner’ and ‘Susu’. Credit unions are common in Africa and the Caribbean. Kenya, and East Africa in general, have some of the most vibrant credit unions (known as savings and credit cooperatives or SACCOs) in the world. Cooperative action has also been a significant part of the African American struggle for social and economic empowerment over the last 200 years.[4]

For centuries, global commerce and finance has been governed by ideas and practices that have been unfriendly to African People.[5] Throughout the last 500 years the experience of African people has included capture and enslavement; colonial exploitation;[6] economic, political, and social exclusion; and discrimination.  Not only in Africa itself, but also in Europe, the Middle East, the USA, South America, and the Caribbean Basin.[7] Today in the UK, the experience of most African People continues to be one of social and economic marginalisation.[8]

Credit Unions and other types of cooperatives have played an important role in helping marginalised peoples resist systematic exploitation.[9] A successful African peoples’ credit union in the UK will help accumulate collective financial resources, which can be used to counter and overcome the effects of centuries of marginalisation, discrimination, exploitation and negative indoctrination.

We invite you to join hands with us to make this vision a reality, by joining the study group, making a membership pledge, or making a donation to meet the start-up costs.

[1] The credit union study group is working to complete the tasks that need to be successfully undertaken before an application for registration as a credit union can be made.

[2] This approach is based on the example of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain.

[3] Bowles and Gintis (2011): A Cooperative Species.

[4] Jessica Gordon Nembhard (2014):  Collective Courage; Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya (2017): Jackson Rising.

[5] By ‘African People’ we mean people racialised as black regardless of nation, birthplace or heritage.

[6] Walter Rodney (1973) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Adu Boahen Ed. (1985) Africa Under Colonial Domination – UNESCO General History of Africa Vol VII

[7] Philip Foner (1970): W.E.B. Du Bois Speaks; Roberta Delson (1981): Readings in Caribbean History and Economics

[8] The Lammy Review (2017); Omar Khan (2008): Financial Inclusion and Ethnicity–The Runnymede Trust; Omar Khan (2009): Why Do Assets Matter-The Runnymede Trust; Bernard Coard (1971): How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System.

[9] African Confederation of Cooperative Savings and Credit Associations The Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions: The Rochdale Pioneers: (1) (2) Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative:

Cooperative Home Care Associates: Mondragon Cooperative Corporation: Recuperated Cooperatives in Argentina: (1) (2) The Take – Occupy Resist Produce (film2004) Jackson Rising

Black Star Line Cooperative Credit Union: (1)