Participatory Development

The Land Is Scarred and Lost For Us – What It Takes To Grow a Tree in The Sahel

To plant is not the problem but to protect and make them grow. One of the project's tree growing sites.

Sometimes an image is all that is needed to explain something. Words are powerful. Words and images together are unbeatable but there are moments when a picture is enough.

“La lutte anti-erosive”, the fight against erosion and its consequence the advance of desertification, and the stabilization of newly formed dunes to prevent them from further moving down south in the Sahel is an ongoing problem that gets a great amount of attention from development and nature conservation organizations all over the world.

It is in my eyes the biggest problem because ” The land is scarred and lost for us”, as an elder local resident said to me once.

I can never forget his words. A great part of the work I did in the Sahel (with an amazing team of people) was in the field of the protection of the natural environment in the cercle de Nara. Nara having  been classified since decades as a zone of ” food insecurity and extreme poverty” had enormous environmental problems.

And land was lost for us.

I should learn the truth of these words during seven years and see it daily with my own eyes. Once a certain stage of degradation had been reached, the land and its fertility could not be re-gained no matter what measures were applied. Developmental programmes and projects that cover the hole Sahel belt will contradict my statement and say that many measures work and that a combined effort is necessary. They don’t. Combined effort does not work.

It is not my objective to criticize the efforts of organizations and the flow of millions of dollars and euros to the Sahel region because I was involved in the same efforts passionately for many years. Simply to keep these measures going that are taught by developmental organizations ( and they are taught even if the process is named participatory)  and to apply them again and again is exhausting and tiring for the ones who have been designated as ” the responsables” ( village people again)  in the project planning.

To plant a tree is not the problem. To grow it is the challenge. The challenge for the residents is to protect it with a fence, either of wood or wire, if you have, so that the goats can not eat it, then to fetch water from the traditional wells or from the water holes in the marigots ( dried out lakes), to walk to the site by foot in the hot Sahel sun and to water the trees twice at least. Better would be three times a day, as the project said. The challenge is to do this for fifteen or twenty years. The challenge is to protect the young plants against natural predators, such as crickets and bugs. To do this the project has shown the target group ( the village people) how to prepare a ” completely organic and ecologically safe ” brew from plants like the Neem tree. This must be applied preventative once a day.

But yes, of course there is training and” encadrement”- monitoring or follow-up. A local project agent will travel with a motor bike to all the sites and will be in frequent contact with all the locals, ready to answer questions and to offer the project’s support if needed. He will do that at least for five years.

I am holding my breath now here.. but one good thing has happened. We created a job. The local agent is going to feed his family for five years because he has a job and a salary.

But what can be done ? Really?

” It has to be left alone, it is scarred, the land is scarred and it is lost for us, but not forever. It has to be left alone and a new order will be established. It will not be like it was before and it will take a very long time. Other will live on it not us “, was what the old man said to me. ” It has happened like this before”

Categories: Development Aid, Development Project, Landscapes, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, Nature, Participatory Development, Sahel, Sahelian Goats, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Toumboudrane, an old place of healing and knowledge

As it was then, so it is now!

Toumboudrane, a village of old Africa. A place of healing and great knowledge.

Toumboudrane was founded over 110 years ago. When I started working in Nara in the 1990’s the chief of the village had already reached the honorable age of 88 years. To be old is good in Mali. Old age is an honorable state that deserves respect.

When I paid my first visit to the village to introduce myself to the chief of the village, a representative for the village chief had already been chosen to replace and assist him in decision-making concerning the affairs of the village. His advanced age and the fact that he was not capable anymore to attend to all the demands and situations that arose in the village and  that he was not well physically made this measure necessary.

Toumboudrane was also famous in the cercle de Nara for its Koranic school and for the healing capacities of the old chief of the village. Mentally ill and people with psychological issues were brought frequently to Toumboudrane and handed over to the care of the chief of the village. He had the gift to heal the ill by reciting the koran in their presence.

And people did get well again.

Like a hundred years ago. Houses are built still in the traditional way in the villages by using handmade mud bricks.

At the time of the projects interventions Toumboudrane counted 1115 inhabitants. Today according to a more recent census from 2003 it counts 1662 inhabitants. All the villages in the cercle de Nara have an old history but Toumboudrane was a village known for its spiritual and religious tradition as well.

It belonged also to the interventions zone of the Project LAG. Being the third biggest village of the municipality of  Nara it was chosen as one of the first villages where a “centre d’alphabetisation” was build in the 1980’s. This adult education center taught the people of Toumboudrane with the help of two local teachers, that were paid by the LAG, to read and write in their own language, Sarakolle.

Centre d'Alphabetisation in Toumboudrane

Interesting was that there existed now two educational institutions next to each other in the same village. The one was a koranic school with hundreds of years tradition and a reputation reaching far based on the Muslim faith, exploring the human soul and the many ways how to serve god and to become a better human being.

Koranic teachings under the shade of a tree. The old village chief sitting on the left.

The other one an educational institution based on Western principles trying to empower people by giving them the gift to read and write in their own native languages.

And it has to be said they co-existed well.

I can say it was a good thing that I kept a hand written diary through all those years. Looking at the photographs now brings back the intensity of these moments and encounters. I know now that I have met some great spiritual people and leaders in my life. Even if some of the encounters were short.

One comment I have written in that year caught my eye again. My conclusion at the time was, that both schools had so much to say and to give and that their knowledge and tradition combined could indeed help you to become a more humble, less pretentious, wiser and spiritually richer human being.

 

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Islam, Koranic School, Mali, Nara, Nature, Participatory Development, People, Sahel, Tradition, Traditional Healer, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Village Chiefs In The Sahel

The Village Chef of Lohoite

In Mali a Village Chief holds his position for life. Every village has a Village Chief. A Village Chief gets his position through inheritance. The male lineage to which he belongs can often be traced back to the founding family of the villages and to warriors of the earlier pre-colonialised West African empires. There are cases were families have been chosen by the colonial authorities to replace existing ruling families thereby facilitating and re-enforcing colonial influence and power over the villages. This has impacted on the development of villages up to the present day, mainly by establishing a new order by force and sowing conflict for future generations to come.

Village chiefs are usually elected by the heads of the households in the village, all male. Women do not participate in the election of a village chief. Although the role of the village chief is an extremely important one, he does not represent a village and he is not accountable for a village as a whole.  If there is unity in a village depends to a great deal on the personality of a village chief but also on the history of the village and what role it plays today in the modern Malian society.

Additionally each village can be divided into committees, or groups of people, such a the youth including men from 18 to 50 years, the elders, usually all men over 50 and the women, including women over eighteen years of age.

The objective of participatory development processes is to re-dress and rectify the mistakes and failures made by top down centralized development strategies. In this sense Village Chiefs and the rural councils of local governance structures are often chosen to represent the local population and the villages in participatory development processes.

Especially for nature conservation and natural resources management project chiefs, and the clan of elders are desirable representatives because they manage the local resources in a given area.

Each and every decision in participatory development planning In Nara had to be run via the Villages Chiefs.

Given the complexity of this system it is easy to get an idea how much complexity it added to development work and community decision-making and control of resources and turn on the implementation of the so-called participatory strategies.

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Development Project, Nara, Participatory Development | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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