Economic cooperation in Kenyan credit cooperatives: exploring the role of social capital and institutions

Muthuma, Elizabeth Wangui
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Credit cooperatives make a significant economic and social contribution to development in Kenya. They are unique financial institutions that are jointly owned and democratically controlled by their members. This study explores how members of Kenyan credit cooperatives achieve economic cooperation. A sociological basis of cooperation exists because cooperatives are voluntary associations. Economic cooperation was thus conceptualised as collective economic action that enables individual actors to secure economic benefits through associational membership. An economic sociology perspective provided the theoretical basis for combining the analysis of economic interests and social relations. The study employed a qualitative case study research design involving a rural and an urban credit cooperative. Social capital was used to explore the role of associational features in facilitating collective action while the concept of institutions was used to examine how institutions organize and shape collective action. Each cooperative was conceptualised as a microstructure to enable an analysis of group relations. An analysis of the economic and socio-political context provided the contextual basis for economic cooperation. The findings suggest that shared values and solidarity bonds are important in creating collective economic resources while maintenance of the collective resources depends on regular reciprocity exchanges, effective enforcement and transparent representation. A new regulatory framework that emphasizes prudential standards and economic efficiency has redefined the incentive structure for Kenyan credit cooperatives. It is likely to favour a business rather than a social welfare mentality in the cooperatives. The socio-political context reveals persistent vertical linkages that have resulted in low political and economic power for rural smallholder farmers compared to urban public sector employees. The study concludes that although credit cooperatives have acted as financial catalysts by enabling the participation of disadvantaged groups in the economic sphere, they are also societal mirrors that reflect the broader income and gender inequalities existing in society. The recognition of cooperatives as economic and social organizations therefore contributes to a better understanding of how cooperatives work.
Credit cooperative, Economic cooperation, Social capital, Institutions, Collective action, Kenya