Reading Time: 5 mins read
Imagine an economic development agenda that is not fully dependent on the government – a situation, whereby the smallest units of the society can effectively collaborate for collective economic empowerment.
In the South-East of Nigeria, the Igboland, beyond the nuclear family, the next unit of social organisation is the extended family, which is also known as kindred – the Umunna system. In this socio-cultural setting, kindreds perform unique functions in the social lives of their members. Amongst others, they offer spaces for communal projects, the administration of social welfare, resolution of interpersonal conflicts, and enactment of justice.
The kindred system can be positioned to act as productive economic units. I call this the Kindred Economic Empowerment Paradigm (KEEP) – or Umunnanomics, where kindred members are literally their brethren-economic-keepers.
KEEP, amongst others, can foster an inclusive economy at the kindred level. This paradigm is at the heart of the
(OKOBI), whereby kindreds create their own communal businesses. These businesses, which can take any form (such as cooperatives, social enterprise, et cetera), reflect the interests, passion, capabilities, and resources of the kindreds. The primary element of this arrangement is that the business is kindred-owned, led, and controlled. Possible areas of business include farming, livestock, services, manufacturing, et cetera. 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 grassroots level upwards.
Another way this can work is through co-investment. Here, a kindred can 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 and embeddedness of entrepreneurship, which might be at the danger of being suppressed in communal ventures, if not carefully managed.
Beyond filial relationships, OKOBI can also simply be a function of “kindred spirit” shared by a group of people – e.g., friends, members of social clubs, co-workers, et cetera. 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 (literally meaning that brotherhood or sisterhood is not solely defined by filial relationships but by shared interests, values and worldviews).
OKOBI, which is pioneered in Imo State under the leadership of
, is already eliciting hitherto untapped financial resources and significant interests amongst local people. Some kindreds have started businesses in farming, livestock, services, manufacturing, et cetera. While some of these emerging kindred businesses target local markets, others seek to explore opportunities in foreign markets through the large and growing Nigerian diaspora community, as well as the global value chains of big firms operating in Nigeria.
In addition to its potential to transform lives in local communities, OKOBI offers the government an opportunity to formalise grassroot business ventures, grow the economy, and expand its revenue generation capability. These benefits are currently missed opportunities, which OKOBI can help reverse.
Obviously, KEEP is not hassle-free. There are also possible challenges that may stand in the way of starting and or sustaining the One Kindred One Business Idea, for instance. One of such challenges is distrust and disunity amongst kindred members. Arguably, some of these challenges are induced by economic inequality, which KEEP aims to address. In addition, looking at the bright side of things, the pursuit of kindred and communal initiatives will likely help to revive the dominant values and worldviews of the Igbos in general – particularly the values of industry and healthy communal existence.
Based on the character and resolve of the Igbo people, KEEP will work. True, Igbo people, like many other people in Nigeria and across Africa, are mainly hardworking. They always strive to exceed their constraints, realise themselves, and make the best out of their circumstances. The industry of the Igbos is expressed in their tenacious commitment to excel, their resilience and ability to weather the most difficult challenges. It is a deep-seated desire to rise above the vicissitudes of one’s fate.
In addition, most Igbos connect with their communities. Although they apply themselves to work for personal self-realisation, the sense of community and the connectedness it brings is strong. For an Igbo, being alone is good but being together is better. Therefore, the Igbos understand that they can realise themselves better through communal efforts. Many community development projects – e.g., schools, hospitals, rural roads, electrification, and other infrastructure – have benefited from this mindset. The people contribute to a common purse, so that the money can be used to execute a project that will benefit everybody. In this regards the “Igwebuike” (power in collective action) concept of Ndigbo comes to play.
It is instructive to note that KEEP is not limited to the Igbos of the South-East of Nigeria alone. It is also a practical and pragmatic public policy tool that can be used to address the issues of unemployment and poverty, while improving rural development from the grass-root – as shown through OKOBI, a variant of KEEP. It helps to unlock hidden opportunities and resources in kindreds that can complement the government resources in good ways to enhance development.
Nonetheless, it is important to highlight that this idea is not completely new. It has been practised in different parts of the world though not as the initials “KEEP”. For instance, Kibbutz is practised by the Israelis. The Kenyans call it Chama. However, the key point is not what it is called, but what it can achieve. Nonetheless, the name, Kindred Economic Empowerment Paradigm (KEEP), in this case, is unique and speaks to the challenge at hand in Africa. It does not mean that the idea cannot be adopted and adapted for a different context.
In all, it is hoped that the One Kindred One Business Idea, informed by the Kindred Economic Empowerment Paradigm, will help revitalise the spirit of self-help and communal living in many developing societies – especially in Africa – for economic development. It will also contribute to the further refinement of Africapitalism – private sector’s contribution to development –
Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Our Digital Network
Projects & Partnerships