Rwanda’s aspiration to become a middle-income economy by 2030 is becoming a reality thanks to a range of players that are fueling the ambition. Cooperatives of ex-combatants, supported by the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), are among those driving the country where it needs to go.
COPEVEMU, a cooperative of ex-combatants and civilians is one example.
In 2007, in Muhanga District, a group of ex-combatants and civilians who shared a common challenge of making ends meet established a security guard cooperative “COPEVEMU.” They needed a daily income to supplement the monthly stipends they received from the government and other well-wishers.
Today the cooperative provides a range of services, anchored by the provision of security services to government and private institutions. Others work as accountants, farmers, and salespeople.
Of its 355 employees, 178 are civilians and 177 are either ex-combatants, demobilized soldiers, or members of Rwanda’s reserve force.
Rurangwa Gaspard, the chairperson of COPEVEMU, says it had a humble beginning. They started from scratch with contributions of Rwf 10,000 from each member. They later received a boost from well-wishers such as RDRC, which gave them 1.3 million Rwf to acquire office equipment. A civilian member also donated the work premises.
“We all had common challenges of life. It was not easy to get extra money. However, we knew that if we came together in a group to start contributing to a common fund we could do it. We then started an association, and contributed Rwf 10,000 each to set it up,” Rurangwa said.
As income earnings grew, the cooperative started a savings initiative. They opened a shop that sells merchandise such as rice, soap, maize flour, and other foodstuffs, generating a profit of about Rwf 50,000. They also ventured into piggery farming.
Today, the cooperative accounts a total of Rwf 210.867,603 million in savings before deducting the share capital.
Since the cooperative secured its legal status in 2009, it has been providing dividends to shareholders worth Rwf 100,000 annually, which has helped to change the members’ lives. They are able to pay tuition fees for their children and health insurance for their families. Additionally, when a member gets injured while at work they are provided with medical support. When a member’s spouse or child dies, the cooperative provides the remaining family members with financial support.
The cooperative also provided relief funds for its members.
“Every member is able to contribute towards family health insurance (Mutuelle de santé) and we provide relief funds to our members, especially during hard times. We also provided funds for them to buy food and other social amenities during COVID-19 lockdowns,” Rurangwa said.
In its future, the cooperative wants to diversify and venture into other businesses, but management capacity remains a challenge. Rurangwa notes that limited access to bank loans and some clients who refuse to pay for their services have been among the other challenges faced.
Nyiramwiza Julie, a female ex-combatant, explained how she has benefited from the cooperative: when she repatriated and resettled, she had no idea how she would earn an income because before joining the army she had not completed her studies.
“This cooperative supported me to finalize my high school studies and then to get a university degree. And, as a female member I am treated equally and consulted in every decision-making process. It has built my confidence.” Nyiramwiza said. “COPEVEMU is roundly transforming our lives. We work together, we share challenges and achievements,” she added.
COPEVEMU is among many other ex-combatant initiatives the UNDP in Rwanda and UNWOMEN have supported financially and technically through the “Phase 65” project in partnership with RDRC. That initiatives focus on empowering ex-combatants economically through reintegration grants, job placements, and entrepreneurship and skills training. Competitions award the best performers and encourage excellence by all.