Landscapes

Dumped On A Dusty Street

Scrap for Africa, dumped on a dusty street in Nara.

First world scrappage  programs lead to first class scrappage sites in Africa.

A scrappage program is a government budget program to promote the replacement of old vehicles with modern vehicles. Scrappage programs generally have the dual aim of stimulating the automobile industry and removing inefficient, high emissions vehicles from the road. Many European countries have introduced large-scale scrappage programs as an economic stimulus to increase market demand in the industrial sector during the global recession that began in 2008.

In an effort to stimulate consumer spending, the German government has provided a scrap bonus of 2,500 euros ($3,570) for two million old cars in 2009.  Germany announced, however later, it would not extend the subsidy, which has proved extremely popular.

Many Germans jumped at the chance to replace old cars with new ones. But instead of being crushed here, as planned by the program, many cars end up in Africa. Nigerian dealers say they export up to 150 cars per month.

Similar, the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), colloquially known as “Cash for Clunkers“, was a $3 billion US federal scrappage program intended to provide economic incentives to U.S. residents to purchase a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle when trading in a less fuel-efficient vehicle. The program, starting in 2009, was promoted as providing stimulus to the economy by boosting auto sales, while putting safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roadways.

However 50000 scrapped vehicles have been exported to Africa and Eastern Europe, where newer, safer cars of the type being destroyed in the West are prohibitively expensive.

Now just add all the cars that have been brought to Africa since the 1960’s.

( more information about these programs can be found on Wikipedia)

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Categories: Cars, Landscapes, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, Sahel, Street Life, Transport, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Night In The Sahel

The view over my wall just before night fall

The presence of palm trees in my close vicinity has always contributed to my feeling of happiness. I feel happy when palm trees grown close to where I live. It must be a connection to an earlier life.

Categories: Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Young Soccer Talent In The Sahel

Young soccers players move down to the "marigot" the dry lake, to get ready for a soccer match. Since it is a special match they have all dressed up in white T Shirts and shoes for this occasion.

My first work assignment was to be patient and present, in other words to look around and understand my new environment. At the end of my observation period a detailed report was expected. That was fine with me, writing was never a problem for me.

But I can tell now that it takes a minimum of two years to understand the relations of the people in a village like Nara au Sahel and to get a feeling for a place. Two years are just the beginning of a long journey making you understand the basic functioning of a locality. Two years just help you to not embarrass yourself too much anymore in public. The finer connotations still escape you ! After two years you move on to the next level.

I talk about participatory development and development aid but my focus is on the human side of it. The focus is on what can happen and will happen to you when you immerse yourself deeply into a culture, that is not only not your own but more so is deeply distant from your culture.

It is fantastic.!

It is absolutely fantastic but the greatest change will happen to you and not to the ” developing world or the third world and its people. The one fundamentally and drastically changing, thereby causing great concern to your non-understanding family is going to be you.

The view over my wall. It offered constant entertainment from all sides

For the execution of my first assignment and many others, the wall around my mud and Banco house was the ideal working environment. I lived in the last house at the end of the road on the right hand side of the  “Quartier Liberte”, also called the Moor Quarter. At the end of “Liberty” was a great dry lake, the French expression for it is “marigot” or simply “le mar”. Leaning on my wall, changing my position with the moving shade and moving along with it – I was patient and present as had been suggested.

In this dry lake soccer matches took frequently place. One afternoon a special match was organized and I saw the young promising soccer players moving down to the mar. All were dressed in white t-shirts and they were wearing SHOES!  That showed how special that match was. Normally soccer was played barefoot on sand and gravel. There are no football clubs, sometimes there is not even a ball ! But Soccer is a real peace maker in  Africa.

And why are there so many great African football players? Because most of them started like the young soccer players in the  marigot of Nara au Sahel.

Categories: Africa, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, Street Life, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Want You To Stay Up There

We want you to stay up there for a while or the pleasure of unity

The last 100 km of road before "Nara la Sahelienne" would appear in the dust

I had received from my employer a job description, admittedly a little bit vague in nature,  that left room for a variety of  joyful and exciting interpretations about  my new position and the living conditions in Nara.  At the time I liked the fact that this job description was so “open” and that it allowed me to fantasize with my friends and family.

Since the project in Nara was a ” collaboration ” between different organisations I also had three superiors with the same hierarchical powers ( over me ), a fact that should not be underestimated and that can be even under normal working conditions challenging.  All three represented powerful, long-established, reputable organisations with distinct mission statements and philosophies. One organisation was a left orientated political foundation, another one an international donor organisation, the pro-longed arm of the German Ministry of International Development and last but not least an independent, fund-raising  NGO, the initiator of the Nara project in the 1990’s .

All three were experienced, impressive men with decades of working experience in the field of International Development work and they had lived most of their life abroad. Their political and religious convictions varied and so did their view of life, management styles and perceptions of the role of foreign aid and the technical advisors or assistants (me again) assigned to projects. Each one organised, worked and orchestrated from his regional office as a regional director. I dare to say they did not like it other too much.

Johnny Cash’s song  ” The one on the right is the one on the left ” fitted this scenario perfectly.

At the time the sector of International Development Work was a rather wild playground with fierce competition and rivalries between the structures concerning project regions, programme interventions and positions.

Several meetings took place individually between the three directors and me to clarify my mission but instead of enlightenment I felt a tiny little bit of nervousness creeping in. Finally, in the meeting before the last meeting, I got one clear instruction before leaving for Nara.

” We want you to stay up there for a while, that is the most important thing for now,” so I was told by the independent NGO director, who of course had a right to say so because it was him who had created everything in the first place.

“There has not been enough presence so far in that location.” he explained further.

” Up there ?”

” Yes, up North, in Nara, please you take your time, you observe and look at the situation, look at it from all the angles and just be present and patient . No need to be proactive right now.”

” Ok”, I said.  I thought I can do that.

” And then you write us a detailed report at the end of the month about what you have seen with all your personal observations.” he added. ” It should be a bit longer than a page.”

After having arrived up there and having seen the place I had a the necessary and un-avoidable follow-up-thought on my first thought that went somehow like this :  Can I do that ?

It is going to be stimulating! I hope!

But then again..

It is going to be stimulating !

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Development Project, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, Transport, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You Make Me Whole Again!

The Holistic School of Thought

Traditional fencing in a village in the Cercle de Nara

From 1994 to 2001 the LAG – Malihilfe supported 17 villages in the Cercle de Nara. The Project LAG ‘s interventions followed the approach of a “holistic multisectorial village development”. This approach was based on the assumption that all the basic, elementary and unsatisfied needs of the population, as food security, availability of drinking water, sanitation and education to name just a few, had to be taken into consideration during the planning of the project’s activities. This approach also assumed that if basic living conditions could be improved in a holistic way, in other words by attending to the problem areas simultaneously through integrating them into an annual project plan in form of well defined and researched activities, things would eventually get better in the villages of the Sahel.

Mali had been classified as the fifth poorest country in the world when I started working in the Sahel in 1996. Things had to get better.

The LAG was the first organization to set up a project infrastructure in Nara. It worked in close cooperation with two other foreign donor organizations that supported the project in terms of finances, knowledge, logistics and personel. Many projects at this time fancied the “holistic” approach. It did make a lot of sense because of its participatory and patient nature compared to development strategies of the 1970’s and it had all the potential to turn projects into success stories instead of white elelphants.

But the north and north west of Mali englobes a wide a variety of life-styles with many of the communities in the Cercle de Nara being of a pastoralist and nomadic nature. One of these lifestyles is called ” The Transhumance”.

Traditional home in a village in the Cercle de Nara

The Transhumance can be described a pastoral strategy practised since thousands of years in the Sahel, especially in the north of Mali. It relies for migration for one part of the year and village residence during the other part. Seasonal migration patterns differ and they depend on a variety of factors ranging from the size of the herds to socio-economic status and family clan. There exists what we called the ” big and small transhumance”.

The small transhumace is also sometimes called a ” dry season transhumance ” that entails staying in the villages during the rainy season and then migrating south for the dry season. The dry season begins in November and ends at the beginning of July. Migrants consist of small family groups or male herders without any women.

The big transhumace is intensive in nature but the migrants move north towards Mauritania and they move during the rainy season. The migrants return only to their villages for a couple of weeks when the harvest time comes which is around October. After that they continue to migrate south with their herds for the long dry season lasting several months.

Migratory and pastoralist patterns have been overlooked for decades in project planning in the Sahel. During the last years more attention is given to them.

But for us soon the question arose: Whom can we make whole again if there is no continued presence, no male presence in the villages for several month every year ? Who is going to do the follow up on the implemenattion of the “holistic village development activities”?

Categories: Animals, Labor Migration, Landscapes, Livestock, Mali, Nara, Tradition, Transhumance, West Africa, women | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sahelian Goats – Pride Of Their Masters

Sahelian goats and their masters on their way home

A small troup of Sahelian goats is led home from the bush through a street in Nara by their Peul (Fulani) masters under the last rays of the Sahel sun. I watched this sight for many evenings, sitting at the gate of my house and it was always of the same beauty and serenity.

Sahelian goats have stiff short hair, are bred in a variety of colors from pure white, cream, to red, black or gray sprinkled or pied, gray, brown or black. They are kept primarily for their meat and skins. Their milk is processed very seldom in the northern dry and arid parts of Mali but is offered to visitors in the villages, mixed and thinned with water as a sign of hospitality. The Sahelian goat is a breed occuring specifically in the north and north-west of Mali

It is difficult to grow and plant trees in the Sahel. No tree grows by itself. It has to be watered, protected by fence and pampered like a prematurely born baby, not only for months but for many years. The Sahelians, as the goats are sometimes simply called add another challenge to the complexity of this task.

In planning processes, aiming at sustainable development the simple fact it is often overlooked that it is extremely tiring and exhausting for the ones who have to do it, to protect young trees and seedlings against livestock that has been living in an area for hundreds of years. Even more so if that livestock is the pride of your soul.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Fulani, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, Sahelian Goats, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Baobab – The Trees of The Spirits

Where the ancestors gather!

A Legend from Africa

In the mystical land Africa grew a beautiful tree called Baobab. Although tall and mighty, the Baobab was not satisfied with what it was and it complained to the Great Spirit who ruled the land, the wild open plains and the animals. The Baobab still wanted to be taller, have blossoms and fruits. At first the Great Spirit ignored the tree, but when the complaining continued the Great Spirit got tired, reached down from the heavens, yanked the tree out of the earth and stuffed it back into the ground with force upside down. All the animals on the great plains noticed this and were reminded of the power and omnipresence of the Great Spirit. After that the Baobab grew only leaves once a year. For nine months of the year it stayed leafless and it seemed like as if its roots are growing into the air. And this is how it still is today.

This is an African legend of the Baobab tree. There are many more legends from other countries. The Baobab – Adansonia Digitata – grows on the savannahs of Africa and India, mostly around the equator. It can get up to 25 meters in height and it lives for thousands of years.

Each product of the Baobab is used. From the bark clothes and ropes are made, the leaves can be cooked into a sauce or used as traditional medicine and the fruit often called ” monkey bread ” is eaten as well. Apart from being one of the most beneficial and wondrous trees on this earth it is a mystical tree that attracts spirits.

In the “Cercle de Nara” the Baobab was highly valued by the people. Every year a group of young men left their villages and traveled with donkey carts to areas in the Sahel where the Baobab grew to gather the leaves and bark. Sometimes they would stay away from home for two or three weeks. But with every new year the journey became longer and harder and the harvest less. The Baobab leaves had become scarce. This “mini migration movement” for the beneficial products of the Baobab tree took place every year and the scarcity of the trees and the adventures encountered by the men on the trip were a topic in many a conversation.

In Narai, I was told the spirits of the ancestors visit the trees often and stay a while if it pleases them. In the branches of a Baobab one can feel the ancestors.

As part of our “multisectoral holistic village development programme” that supported self-help initiatives in the Cercle of Nara we had started researching the history of the Baobab ( Adansonia Digitata) on a local level. Under the framework of our agroforestry programme that aimed at planting, growing and re-introducing indigenous trees, we suggested to the people in the village to plant and grow the Adansonia Digitata close-by. This would eventually with time lead to the availability of Baobab leaves, bark and fruits, contribute to re-forestation in the Sahel and reduce the necessity of traveling to remote areas to collect the products. It was an idea that had been well thought through and reflected on from a point of planning and organization. And it was possible to grow the Baobab. I had done several test at my house.

But during several hot afternoon meetings in different villages the men listened to the projects suggestions with great secptism. There was great reluctance.

One afternoon I received the visit of a village chief who had come to the market in Nara to do business.

” Why is it difficult to grow the Baobab” ? I asked him over tea.

” You can live close to a Baobab tree, but you should not plant a new Baobab tree in your yard. You will die before you see it grow big and it is absolutely not sure how the spirits of the ancestors would react to such an action.”

I believe that in most things that are said in Africa, there is truth!

Categories: Adansonia Digitata, Africa, Baobab, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Thirsty Camels

Three very thirsty camels approaching one of the wells in the region built with Development Aid Funds

In the 1970s, the Sahel came into the lime light and captured international attention when drought and famine killed nearly 200,000 inhabitants of the region.

Though conditions have since improved during the last 4 decades, the Sahel is still fighting a vicious cycle of soil erosion, insufficient irrigation, deforestation, overpopulation, desertification and drought.

International development agencies believe that ambitious tree-planting, dune stabilisation and irrigation projects will help the Sahel, restoring it’s fragile natural environment over time. From Ehtiopia to Niger to Mali projects have been busy with well drilling, irrigation schemes, water and sanitation schemes accompagnied by training measures to raise environmental consciousness with the local population.

Creating access to clean drinking water was and is still one of the priorities of most projects in the region today. Same applied to our project at the time.

But Nara’s ground water to be found in a depth of 200 meters and more was of fossil origin. Among the many ethnical groups of the region are nomads and berbers. Livestock is their life.

The question which arose soon was:  Water for the camels and cattle or for the humans ?

The fossil ground water, hidden in chambers and flowing in the earth so deep that it could not be reached by the local population with traditional drilling methods, could only be touched and brought to the surface after hundreds and hundreds of years with modern Western technology and foreign aid.

Was that a good thing or a bad thing the faithful development assistant on duty asked himself ? Would all the hopes and all the Development built on this fossil water not collapse when the water was finisihed. No, said the KVW ( Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau), we have done a calculation that this water will last a thousand years.  And in a thousand years there will be a new plan !

But they did not count the camels !

Categories: Africa, Animals, Landscapes, Nara, Nature, People | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nara, The Fire

When I applied for a position with an  International Organizations in the 1990’s, I applied for a job vacancy in the South of Namibia. I wanted to help disabled children and children with learning abilities to develop their potential.

I had grown up  and been living in Namibia for several years. I spoke three of the local languages, Africans and English as well. I was very young then, but I thought I had what it takes to assist at least some of the Namibian population to have a better life. I definitely had passion and a deep love for the African continent.  A very deep love. Still today I do not want to live in any other place.

I was invited for a job interview in Berlin, Germany. I did well and was asked if I would go to Tanzania instead. I said yes, wondering why, and thinking I have to speak to my boyfriend first. He never wanted leave Europe, where I was living since a year and a half. But I did. I was home-sick.

I said yes, when asked. After three days of  being assessed by the Development and Donor Organization I was judged suitable and capable for work in Africa. I went home in an overnight train. Riding the whole night, while I heard the noise the wheels made on rails, I thought: Will I like Tanzania ?  Will he ? I did not sleep. He bought a map for Tanzania when I was home with him.

Two days later I got a job offer for Nara, in Mali. Nara is in the Sahel. French is spoken. My French was mediocre at the time. I was a child of the South of Africa. But I was home-sick and I said yes again to Nara.

I was told later by some of the elders of Nara:  Nara comes from Noara and is an Arab name. There goes the saying that the first woman ever to settle in that region, was called Noara. A woman of beauty and strength. A stubborn woman. The village Nara was named after her. Nobody knows if this is really true. It is just a saying.

And Nara means THE FIRE as well. Nara is the fire and the heat of the Sahel.

Categories: Africa, Landscapes, Nara, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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