Youths take back seat in key Sacco positions

SASRA CEO John Mwaka (left) exchanges pleasantries with Kieni MP Kanini Kega. Photo/File

Only 10.5 per cent of the DT-Saccos’172 CEOs are below 35 years latest Sasra data shows

By Sammy Chivanga

Young people are conspicuously missing from essential Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOs) positions despite making up nearly a third of the membership, raising questions about the succession structures in the vibrant sub-sector.

An analysis by the regulator on the representation of people aged up to 35 years in seats such as Board of Directors, supervisory committees and senior positions shows a leaning towards older people and mostly men.

The Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority (Sasra) report tracked the comparative composition of the age demographics of the Chief Executive Officers and the office bearers within the deposit-taking Sacco system as of December 2019.

This is despite nearly a third (30.86 per cent) of Sacco members aged between 18 and 35 years, demystifying the public parlance rhetoric that Sacco membership is composed of older people with no place for the youth. The older people have seemingly ridden on this rhetoric to occupy a majority of the seats in the Sacco movement at the expense of young people.

Office bearers have the responsibility of shaping critical decisions such as the rollout of new products, dividend levels and the general direction of Saccos. This means the performance of the cooperatives is heavily dependent on them.

Tea farmers-focused Mudete Sacco Chief Executive Anthony Bitinyu said many young people tend to have fewer investments, especially in agricultural Saccos and therefore not actively involved in management.

For Saccos with Agricultural bonds such as tea, coffee and sugarcane, you will rarely find young people owning plantations. So they have not come forth to participate in leadership,” said Bitinyu.

The practice also extends to other Saccos where leadership is silently pegged on the level of savings. This tends to leave young people out.

But the lack of sufficient youth representation puts at risk the succession in the Sacco movement when the ageing leadership leaves without having groomed young people.

The regulator notes that the majority of Chief Executive Officers were aged between 36 years and 50 years and accounted for 58.48 per cent.

Only 10.53 per cent of the 172 CEOs in deposit-taking Saccos were aged below 35 years and thus falling within the youth age bracket.

Some 2.34 per cent of the CEOs were noted to be above 61 years old, but there were none above 70 years.

Young people are missing from the elective positions, meaning that youth are not riding on their numbers to vote in those below 35 years.

 Sasra notes that the majority of those who occupied the offices of Chairman, the Vice-Chairman and Treasurer are aged between 51 years and 60 years, with each accounting for 48.52 percent, 45.56 per cent and 47.93 percent respectively.

On the other hand, the analysis shows that officers above 71 years old held 8.28 per cent of the Chairman’s positions, 9.47 per cent (Vice-Chairman’s), 4.14 per cent (Secretary’s) and 5.92 per cent (Treasurers’).

 “It is, however, interesting to observe that among the office bearers’ positions, none was occupied by a person aged below 35 years,” says Sasra.

“This generally depicts the dearth of representation of the youth among the office bearers within the DT-Sacco system.”

According to Bitinyu, the issue of common bond also plays a key role in determining who can occupy leadership positions.

While Saccos with common bonds such as government-based, teachers-based, and farmers-based have opened up membership to any willing person, they have guarded leadership seats.

“This is a practice all over. We have opened up membership to other groups, but they cannot be elected to occupy board seats. The management is purely rested on the common bond,” said Bitinyu.

Another glaring disparity in the Sacco movement is the representation of women in leadership positions, despite women seen as the anchors of Sacco movement. But the challenge of involving women and youth in leadership is also a national problem.

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