President Paul Kagame yesterday thanked members of cooperatives in the country for their role in the fight against poverty and pledged more support from the government to entrepreneurs.
The Head of State was addressing more than 2,500 members of cooperatives from across the country who had gathered in Kigali to mark the International Cooperative Day.
"As we celebrate 20 years of liberation, it is essential to recognise cooperatives and your role in our liberation from poverty. Cooperatives means working together, joining hands and achieving more together than we can achieve individually," he said.
"Working in cooperatives is key to achieving self-reliance and economic transformation".
President Kagame said the government was ready to help cooperatives in the country achieve more things in their plans and encouraged the coops' leaders to increase profits in the interest of their members.
"There is nothing wrong with continuously improving your revenue as long as it is honest and benefits Rwandans," he said.
He encouraged them to keep governance of cooperatives in good standing, to ensure that corruption is not tolerated by any members.
"Those who take advantage of cooperatives for their own benefit at the expense of other members should be held accountable," Kagame said.
The number of cooperatives has increased in the last twenty years, with current estimates at 6,516, up from 1,600 in 1994. the president said.
2,748,832 people are members of cooperatives and are involved in organised business, mostly in farming, construction, mining, transport and financial services; and have helped many out of poverty.
"I was the poorest person in my village, but now I am among the top five richest people in the area," said Narcisse Karengera, a member of KAIMU, a wheat growing cooperative in Nyaruguru District, Southern Province.
He said that working in cooperatives helps to transform societies as people change their mentalities by learning from each other.
"Working together is the answer for development. You look at others and you want to be like them," Karengera said.
It's been nine years since the government made steps to rigorously encourage people to organise their businesses in cooperatives.
The efforts have seen the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) set up as a public institution in charge of promotion, registration, and regulation of cooperatives.
The Director General of RCA, Damien Mugabo, said cooperatives have helped the country improve both its economy and social fabric because members have improved both their financial fortunes and achieved some level of reconciliation by working together.
"There is still a long way to go but we appreciate the good things we have achieved so far," he said.
One of the members of a rice growing coop in the Southern Province told The New Times that increasing both quality and quantity remains the agenda for her cooperative.
"We are already doing a good job but we want to make more steps to produce more and better rice," said Anne Marie Bamurange.
This year the International Cooperative Day was held globally under the theme of "Cooperative enterprises achieve sustainable development for all".