Recently in Understanding Africa Category

I found an interesting article this morning that talks about the role of a language barrier in development. The author wrote about something that we see everyday here in Burkina. French is the official language of Burkina. All government transactions take place in French. It is forbidden to speak local language in a Burkinabè school. Upper class people only speak in French, and view those who speak in local language as below them. While this puts Burkina in the game on a global level, it marginalizes large populations of people who are creative and motivated who could more actively participate in Burkina's national economy because they are deemed "uneducated." Realistically, it is difficult to communicate outside of your village with most local languages, but Mooré can be used almost anywhere in the country and Dioula can be used in most West African countries. So if we allow these languages into the government, schools and trade, in conjunction with French, we would encourage even more people to participate in Burkina's development, and maybe it would help alleviate some of the poverty and inequality here in Burkina.

You can find the full text of the article here.   

The Place In Between (French-Burkinabe film)

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"We throw the ball as we throw our spears"

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Elisée wrote:

Maasai warriors are known to be excellent hunters. I've always been impressed by their dance (jumping dance)  and their eternal red tunic. But here's something I never imagined: The Maasai playing cricket! An amazing video...





See also Ricou's fabulous website Sénégalmétis.

Capitaine des ténèbres de Serge Moati et Yves Laurent

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Despite the ridiculous (truly!) cover this novelization of the infamous Colonne Voulet-Chanoine is worth the reading (it was also made into a film)  I hope we can get copies in every library in Burkina someday.  It recounts a little known but emblematic episode in the history of colonization of French West Africa.  In 1898, fresh from the defeat of the Mossi kings in central Burkina Faso, Paul Voulet and his friend and companion Julien Chanoine (son of a 9782213626109.jpgFrench general) were entrusted to lead a military mission to conquer the Lake Chad area.  The French were in a race with the British to secure for themselves all the unmapped areas of Africa.  With Lake Chad, the French would have control over the entire Sahel from Senegal to the border of Darfur (then an independent Sultanate as the British reconquered Sudan).  Controlling the colonies below Chad (now CAR, Cameroon and Congo) the French would have an enormous bloc on the continent.  But by design or misfortune, Voulet and Chanoince, once they had left the last French outpost at Say, on the Niger River, after Timbuktu, decided to pillage and terrorize their way to Chad.  They "went barbarian" as the saying goes, despite the likelihood that villagers and small kingdoms would have greeted them peacefully and been happy to trade, along the way. 

The book spends time on a romantic backstory of Voulet.  I have no idea whether there is documentary record of the letters between himself and his prostitute wife who spurns him in the end (wow!).  Would be interesting to see if true.  This then forms the basis for psychologizing Voulet, while Chanoine is simply represented as a resentful sadist psychopath.  Anyway, good reading.  Nice description of their battle with Sarraounia.

The books is available here on Amazon.  If you read French, order a copy, read, and then send to FAVL to forward to the libraries.

La colonne Voulet-Chanoine - excellent documentary

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Interesting Article about Education in Africa

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I came across an article called "Education in Africa." The author criticizes efforts to importing the western education model to Africa.

I'm not quite sure I agree with the author because underlying the author's argument seems to be the idea that Africans are stupid. Also, I'm hesitant to read anything entitled "Education in Africa." Like it's one homogenous chunk of land instead of 50+ distinct countries. When was the last time you read an article entitled "Education in North America"??

The author is completely off on several points.For example, he says, "The high drop out rate of pupils in African schools is a symptom of the underlying problem of boredom." Which, as a former teacher in the Burkinabè school system, I can attest is NOT at all true. Most kids drop out of school because they're parents can't pay for it anymore or they don't see the value in it because the kid is more useful in the fields.

Not to mention: "In Africa, education remains an abstract and unfathomable concept, neither easily nor conveniently appreciated nor applicable - a wasteful endeavor that should never have been embarked upon in the first place." I mean, from reading the rest of the article, I see what he's trying to say. But a wasteful endeavor? Really, homie?

At the crux of the matter, though, the author does have a good point. That education, like many things in Africa, was imported directly from western countries without a through to cultural or circumstantial adaptation. In 4ème (8th grade), one of the first lessons in S.V.T. (Life Sciences) is learning the parts of a telescope. How can you possibly test a group of kids who have never seen a telescope, even on television (because in village, there is none!), on it's different parts and what they do? You're really just setting them up for failure.

I think this is one of the things that FAVL does well, though. I feel like by putting books by African authors in our libraries and having activities about relevant topics like malaria and handwashing, we help get people interested in learning and reading. Because if those things aren't relevant to a reader's life, they won't have any interest in learning.  

Bereba local politics makes the national news

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Leslie and I are Bereba homeowners, and many FAVL volunteers and FAVL workers have stayed in our home in Bereba.  Since 2000 the village has been trying to have the land delimited and parceled, with title for each parcel owner.  Maps were made, and cement markets placed everywhere (except the old "traditional" village).  But every year a new reason appeared for why the lotissement, as the attribution of parcels is known in French, was delayed.  Meanwhile every so often the population was asked to contribute money to get the process started again.  Finally, it seems some factions in the village have decided that enough is enough and they are going to take direct political action... a march was planned, and disruptions of the upcoming electoral registration.... The elders calmed them down, but a letter made public says "if the situation is not resolved in 15 days.... we will march!"

The article is here is lefaso.net.  A extract:

Ils disent ne pas comprendre pourquoi la commune de Béréba n'est pas autorisée à poursuivre l'opération de lotissement après la levée de la mesure de blocage par le gouvernement, à l'instar des 125 autres communes. Et de rappeler que c'est en 2002 qu'a démarré le processus du lotissement du village de Béréba sous l'égide de l'Administration qui s'est désengagée entre-temps au profit de la municipalité nouvellement mise en place en 2006. Ce transfert aurait créé une brouille sur le lotissement et c'est finalement en 2011 que la mairie a repris les opérations en récoltant en quelques jours une quinzaine de millions auprès des demandeurs. Depuis, ces derniers attendent les attributions et s'indignent du fait que la levée de la mesure de suspension des lotissements ne profite pas à leur commune. Approché, le maire de la commune de Béréba, Zoubiéssé Doyé, a confié que le problème est imputable à l'Administration qui n'aurait pas fait son travail. « Cette marche était la bienvenue pour que toute la lumière soit faite sur le lotissement », a-t-il martelé. Il a laissé entendre que l'argent récolté auprès des demandeurs est bien disponible au Trésor public. En définitive, une lettre signée d'une dizaine de personnes et destinée au ministre de l'Habitat et de l'urbanisme a été remise au préfet de Béréba dont nous retenons cette mise en garde : « Nous accordons un délai de 15 jours pour que la lumière soit faite. Passé ce délai, nous entreprendrons non seulement une marche à Béréba, mais il n'y aura pas de recensement électoral dans la commune ».

Racism in children's books dealing with Africa?

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Guest blogger Erica Ernst writes:

Some of us who have spent some time traveling in or studying in Africa are at first struck by new observations of African life that are not the same as the ones we perhaps grew up with. As one of the few college students I knew studying abroad in Africa, I was bombarded with questions seemingly silly to me, such as "How was Africa?" (as if I had been everywhere in the continent), "Did you see any animals?" (as if safaris were the only worthwhile thing to do), and recently my classmate from Benin was unfortunately asked the particularly silly (and stupid question), "Did you ride elephants to school?" (perhaps the movie Lion King was their only source of knowledge on Africa).

This article "Are Today's Children's Books About Africa Still Racist?" sheds light onto the literary roots to this problem. Just like some academics have criticized the Disney's inaccurate portrayal of Arabs in the movie Aladdin, the author of the article Jovita dos Santos Pinto recognizes that literature about Africa has had a similar effect. Books such as Babar the Little Elephant and Tin Tin in Congo, although much loved stories, he argues they are racist and full of colonial thinking:

 Babar tells the story of a lost elephant who meets civilization when he wanders into town. He returns to Africa wearing a suit and standing on two legs. Upon arrival, he is made king of the animals. Tin Tin tells the story of a colonial adventurer who makes his way into the jungle, where he encounters stupid people whom he easily outwits. Tin Tin, the superior and rational European, is cast in juxtaposition to the Africans, whom the comic depicts as wild, lazy and superstitious.

He notes that even the books that try to highlight African culture in books such as "Tell Me, How is Africa" stereotypes that Africa is a primitive place. Fortunately, there is some advancement to the past shortfalls of this literature. The article does draw attention to books with more accurate portrayals such as Aya, a FAVL favorite!  If children's books like these were circulated in the U.S., I'm sure Americans would have a much different perception of Africa than they do now.

a - c'est moumouni qui à volé

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A response to a question in our survey of library users.  The student picked a, and added "it was moumouni who stole it"  The it? The solar lantern we distributed back in May 2011.  Should we prosecute "moumouni "?!  (Note, to protect confidentiality I have changed the name....)

Let's remark that there are a dozen "moumouni" in every village... Round up the usual suspects!
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FAVL Blog

Books, reading, and libraries relevant to Africa by Michael Kevane, co-Director of FAVL and economist at Santa Clara University.

Other contributors include Kate Parry, FAVL-East Africa director, Peace Corps volunteer Emilie Crofton, Krystle Austin, Elisee Sare, and Monique Nadembega.

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