Governments are always looking for new policies to help boost economic growth. Rather than impose these from the centre, Kenneth Amaeshi argues for a new approach that utilises existing socio-economic structures.
Many economic policy interventions are top-down in approach and based on colonial structures. These unsuitable interventions, which have persisted unchallenged over time, ignore indigenous social and governance structures. The downgrading of indigenous social structures in both policy and practice has continued to haunt many initiatives in Africa, consequently leading to failures and frustrations.
But a pilot project amongst the Igbos of Nigeria, based on local socio-economic structures, has the potential to put indigenous cultures at the forefront of economic development in Africa.
My kindred’s economic keeper
Imagine an approach to economic development where the smallest units of society can effectively collaborate for collective economic empowerment. In Igboland in South-East Nigeria, there is a unit of social organisation known as the kindred or Umunna system. In this setting, extended family, or kindreds, perform unique functions in the social lives of their members. They offer each other spaces for communal projects, the administration of social welfare, and resolution to interpersonal conflicts.
In Nigeria, today, the local government area is the closest form of government to the people. Most of these local government areas are struggling in the face of pressing socio-economic challenges and limited financial resources. As such, the needs of the local people are hardly met, and local economic development suffers significantly. One way to address this gap is to reinvigorate kindreds and stimulate them to act both as productive economic units and sources of revenues. In the Kindred Economic Empowerment Paradigm (KEEP), members are their kindred’s-economic-keepers.
KEEP is an innovative way of unlocking informal financial resources and transforming human capital at the grassroota level to build an inclusive economy. This paradigm is at the heart of the One Kindred One Business Idea (OKOBI), whereby kindreds create and finance their own communal businesses. These businesses reflect the interests, passions, and resources of the kindreds. The primary element of this arrangement is that the business is kindred-owned, led, and controlled. This approach, which is in line with the original social structure of the Igbo people through the “Umunna” and “Umuada”, has a significant potential of addressing the issues of unemployment and poverty from the grass root level upwards.
OKOBI can operate in many ways. Kindred can choose to own a business outright. Opportunities for co-investment mean people can also decide to invest in an already existing business owned by members of their kindred. That way, the kindred members become shareholders whilst leveraging and respecting the individual agency of entrepreneurship.
Beyond filial relationships, OKOBI can also function in support networks of groups of people such as friends, members of social clubs, and co-workers. What matters most here is the ability to collaborate in the pursuit of a desirable collective goal effectively and efficiently, whilst leaving no one behind. In short, this version of OKOBI is founded on the principle of nwanne di na mba (meaning that brotherhood or sisterhood is not defined by filial relationships but by shared interests, values, and worldviews).
In Imo State
OKOBI is being pioneered in the Imo State of Nigeria under the leadership of Senator Hope Uzodimma. It is already generating significant interest amongst local people with kindreds starting businesses in farming, services, and manufacturing. Some of these emerging kindred businesses target local markets, but others seek to explore opportunities in foreign markets through Nigeria’s diaspora community.
In addition to its potential to transform lives in local communities, OKOBI offers the government an opportunity to formalise grassroots business ventures, grow the economy, and expand its revenue generation capability. These benefits are currently missed opportunities, which OKOBI can help reverse.
Obviously, OKOBI is not hassle-free. There is distrust and disunity in any community. But Igbo culture promotes a view that individuals can realise themselves better through communal efforts. Many community development projects – including schools, hospitals, and rural road building – have benefited from this mindset, there is no reason why the local economy cannot also benefit.
KEEP, the principle at the heart of this project is not limited to the Igbos of the South-East of Nigeria. It has been expressed in different parts of the world under different names: Israelis practice Kibbutz and Kenyans have Chama. The key is not what it is called, but what it can achieve. This approach is a practical and pragmatic public policy tool that can be used to address the issues of unemployment and poverty at the grassroots level in many different circumstances.
The One Kindred One Business Idea, informed by the Kindred Economic Empowerment Paradigm, can help revitalize the spirit of self-help and communal living for economic development in many developing societies – especially in Africa.
Photo credit: Swastik Arora via Pexels
This is a very novel idea. But one major problem will remain with its implimentation.