June 19, 2018   by

Every social setup is bound to experience some form of friction from time to time. For chamas and other investment groups, even with a vigorous vetting process and careful selection of new members in a quest to avoid internal squabbles, dealing with conflicts will always be a challenge that they will have to face . Some of these will be minor but others can be devastating enough to the point of tearing the group apart.

What are some causes of conflict in chamas?

..key to every great relationship

Poor communication.

As an investment group grows larger, the internal communication dynamics within also become more complicated than before. Expansion of the group may also bring a situation whereby some members start sinking into a place where they feel misrepresented and left out.

Take, for instance, a Farmers’ Cooperative society of all Tea farmers in the Rift Valley Region, which has over a thousand members and whose administrative offices are located in Nairobi. Now picture one of those farmers living deep in the village, who works hard to meet his or her quota of produce. The problem is, when an important decision that affects this farmer needs to be made, it is highly unlikely that his or her opinion about it will be considered. As a result, when the impact of that decision trickles down, he or she will sense unfairness and probably get frustrated.

Meetings and SACCO forums would give this farmer a chance to voice his opinions. However, when this or other channels of communication are not used,  the SACCO will eventually be divided between the individuals who ‘own’ it and ‘the rest’ of the members, causing conflict.

Diverse backgrounds.

Group members despite having been brought together by a common interest will have different backgrounds that inform their personal inclinations and beliefs. Hence each member has different views and convictions concerning various aspects of the group which is a good thing, as it brings diversity in the chama. If not well-checked however, this diversity can be the cause of dissension in the group.

Even members’ religious and political views are critical components when it comes to group unity. If debates on such topics are allowed to dominate group meetings, then temperatures are bound to get quite high. Serious arguments will arise that could potentially lead to division and hard feelings.

Conflict of Interests.

A conflict of interest occurs when members have varied views on certain aspects pertaining to the chama, like the management of chama finances and group leadership.

We have heard of SACCOs that literally split apart because members were frustrated and angry as they felt that the group was not being run the way they expected. Such groups were unable to make an amicable consensus that would bind members together and ensure unity.

How can a chama steer away from such conflicts?

open discussions about crucial issues promote unity in the group.

Every investment group or SACCO is started with an agenda and a vision that the founders hope to achieve. This vision must be well communicated to new recruits along the way so that every new member fully understands the nature of the group they are joining. This is very important because one of the major causes of conflict is when a member realizes that the group is not helping him/her fulfill the goals that they hoped to meet by joining the group.

That also tells us that people should not become members of investment groups primarily for their personal ambitions. While the group helps you achieve personal financial goals, remember also to consider that fellow members also have goals that they would like to achieve and that all of you have come together to help each other achieve that.

Group leaders need to take up the responsibility of uniting the group. They ought to be the link at which divergent ideas meet and find a common ground to stand upon. Leaders who fail to embrace this responsibility will be risking their group’s firm union. That’s the reason why in choosing group leadership, self-interest must be laid aside so that members elect leaders who have the ability to be uniting factors for the group, and people who can the group to actualize its vision and goals.

Openness and proper communication are indispensable if the conflict is to be kept at bay. Miscommunication is by far the greatest cause of misunderstanding between people in any social setup. What are the channels and strategies that have been put in place to ensure that every member of the group is well-informed of the progress of the group? Is every member given a platform to voice their opinions and views, and are those opinions respected and considered? If this does not happen, then slowly but surely the alienated members will start to push to be heard, and conflict will arise in the process.

Let us not view an investment group as just a whole bunch of people. Our focus ought to shift, so that we view it from an “individuals” perspective, where each member counts and is counted, every voice heard and respected. There should not be some members who are ‘more equal than others’. For instance, a chama where a certain member never does pay fines despite their perpetual lateness simply because the chair is their friend or relative. Fairness must be upheld as a principle.

What do we do when conflicts occur, as they are bound to? Because whenever a group of people is in a social setup, then definitely every once in a while, shoulders will be brushed the wrong way, or someone’s good intentions will be misconstrued, generating conflict. Whenever that happens, members should consider it a learning opportunity rather than a dead end. Therefore the first rule of thumb is: to approach the issue with a positive attitude.

It is also very important to address the very root of the problem- the real issue that sits at the bottom rather than moving over and over in circles attempting to address the ‘symptoms’ of that problem. This requires the members to sit and carefully analyze every concern raised, in a quest to identify the causal issue which when addressed will settle all the related issues once and for all. For larger groups, members can appoint a special committee to do this on their behalf in the interest of time.

Again, if as a member you realize that you were the one in the wrong, be willing to own it up and make necessary indemnification; because that is what smart people do. never allow your ego to get in the way of Chama’s unity.

Always focus on those things that unite the group, those points of common interest, rather than the differences among members. Fostering group unity is a journey that begins but never ends so long as the group is alive, and it only becomes more arduous as the membership grows. It is not just the duty of the leaders or a section of the members, but it’s the responsibility of each one to work towards minimal conflict in the group.

Unity in chamas is important because, in the end, it’s not just about the investments we make together; it is also within these groups that we make life-long friends and meet awesome people who we can always depend upon.

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