In the space of a decade the army’s savings and credit cooperative scheme, Wazalendo has amassed sh131b in assets making it the biggest SACCO in Uganda today.
Each of their members saves 7% of their salary, which might not seem much, but when seen against their 70,000-strong membership it adds up.
Assuming the current rate of growth Wazalendo’s asset base will about double dfcu’s current total assets within a decade. It is an amazing feat for a financial institution that opened its doors to business barely 10 years ago.
Somebody once said that we overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can achieve in ten years. Because of the former we take too much risk and in the case of the latter we don’t get off our behinds to do anything at all.
"The Wazalendo SACCO experience is particularly instructional because we know an army man’s basic salary is not that much but through consistency and taking advantage of the power of compounding they now have a war chest, which would be the envy of any financial institution in Uganda...
Money is not the be all and end all but to have some is a good thing.
The challenge always is to aggregate it into meaningful sums so that you can get involved in bigger projects.
This is the first challenge but not the most serious. The next challenge is to deploy this money to grow on its own, this is the hardest part.
When there is a lot of money hanging around you immediately gain in confidence and imagine everything you touch turns to gold. New speculative projects are proposed. Controls are relaxed and monies start getting lost. It starts as a trickle before becoming a full blown deluge, if the holes are not plugged.
The temptation to break out into new areas, to take on additional risk can be overwhelming but most times it’s enough to maintain current momentum of doing more of what brought to you the current point of opulence.
Thankfully the management at Wazalendo is very clear that the money is for the benefit of the members and they will not be seduced into going into other businesses or buying real estate or speculating in the markets.
Barring any governance issues, years down the road Wazalendo will be a key financial institution in this country, the soldiers and the country at large will be better for it too.
Beyond that Wazalendo shows us what we are capable of and we do not even know the half of it. The lesson is even more poignant when you think that its savers are not top executives, with top pay checks. What more can we do as a country if we set our minds to finding the appropriate vehicles to mobilise not only our financial resources but our labour, our land, our harvests, our minds?
And we would not be reinventing the wheel. The capitalists while they turn up their noses at socialism and communism, which were attempts to aggregate the productive forces of the economy for the general good, the first private company emerged from a need to pool resources and divide the risk among like minded men....
The Vasco da Gama’s who sailed around the cape of good hope and Christopher Columbus who “discovered” America were bankrolled by wealth y patrons coming together to invest in a dangerous but lucrative venture if it was successful.
Somehow in Africa our collectivism has remained ta the level of the tribe partly, I believe because the challenges that face the pre-colonial African were such that they could be handled by a few hands.
Apart from Kingdoms like the Zulu in South Africa, the ancestors of the present day Shona in Zimbabwe or the Kingdoms of Bunyoro-Kitara and Buganda in this region, there seems to have been little attempt to aggregate and form more viable entities. There really was no compulsion – internal or external, to do so.
But we need not go far back into history to see what can be achieved by collective action by even the humblest in our midst.
Across the border in Rwanda in 1997 the army started their own SACCO, Zigama Credit & Savings Society. Zigama has grown so big that it is now a fully-fledged co-operatve bank with an asset base of about $143m by the end of 2012.
It services its 72,000 members – who now include members of the police and prisons services, through 16 branches around the country. Imagine its power in another ten, 20- or even 50-years?