Meaningful democracy for Kuapa Kokoo's 85,000 members

Posted by Hannah Davis on 5 August 2014

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At this time of year I would usually be in Ghana, assisting Kuapa Kokoo in preparing for the most important event in their calendar; the annual general meeting.  This year’s AGM is particularly significant, playing host not only to Kuapa’s four-yearly leadership elections but also the grand finale of their 20th anniversary celebrations.  And so, having attended for the last two years, I am sad to be missing—albeit for the happy reason of expecting a baby—what I know will be an impressive display of the self-determination and democracy that Kuapa stands for.

Kuapa Kokoo is well known for its size and its unique shareholding in Divine Chocolate.  However, perhaps its most important point of difference is its democratic governance structure, which gives all members a say in how their organisation and chocolate company are run.  And in a context where farmer organisations increasingly are established and controlled by big industry players, this principle of self-mobilisation and -governance stands out even more.

Kuapa’s constitution is based on cooperative principles and values, which means member participation and democratic control are central to everything it does.  And at no time is this more evident than during the elections.  Since these were formally announced at last year’s AGM, Kuapa staff and current leaders have been working to ensure that all members understand the significance of and have the opportunity to participate, either as candidates or as voters. 

Advising on this process has featured strongly in Divine and Twin’s producer support programme this year, assisting Kuapa with the delivery of a programme of training and awareness-raising on Kuapa’s constitution and broadcast of a special radio programme.  In both of these activities, particular emphasis was placed on the participation of women members; another principle central to Kuapa’s mission made evident by the number of women incumbents on the national executive council (five out of eleven seats are currently held by women, including the President). 

This democratic control by members over their own organisation not only has intrinsic value; it also results in better livelihood outcomes for farmers.  For example, an impact assessment of Kuapa’s gender programme last year found a link between the active involvement of women members in Kuapa’s decision-making structures and increased independent incomes, larger land-holdings and sending daughters to school. 

And so, as Kuapa makes the final preparations for its national elections and AGM this Thursday and Friday, I’ll be thinking about what one female District President told me after last year’s AGM voted in changes to the constitution to strengthen Kuapa’s commitment to women’s empowerment: “Now that’s democracy in action!”