Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Visiting the Chief

As our ICS placement has progressed, it has become very apparent that a key principle of international development is sustainability. That’s clear from the fact development work is guided by the UN’s overarching ‘Sustainable Development Goals.’ As volunteers we are on placement for a relatively modest 3 months. There is thus a danger of being seen as “here today, gone tomorrow”. To avoid this, our team has focused on explaining to the community the reasons we are here, to elicit the support of local people for the long-term goals of the project.  

But to engage with a community, you first need to understand it… 

Burkina Faso is a highly diverse country made up of over 60 ethnic groups. The largest of these ethnicities is the ‘Mossi,’ which make up about 40% of the population. Prior to French colonisation, much of the territory that comprises modern-day Burkina Faso was under the control of the Mossi Empire. Different Nabas governed various kingdoms within this Empire, with the most powerful of these rulers being Ouagadougou’s Mogho Naba (Great Lord of Chief). The governance of Burkina Faso has of course changed markedly since the days of the Mossi Empire, (with elections being held October 2015 following a short period of civil unrest.) Executive power has long since ceased to reside with the Nabas. Nonetheless traditional hierarchies remain. The Nabas continue to play an important ceremonial role within Mossi society, and are held in high esteem by many people.

This week, in order to increase the community’s awareness of our project, we decided to visit the Naba of our village. The Naba’s house is built on one of the larger plots in the village. We travelled there with the President of our Association, and waited for our invitation to pass through the gates. The Naba was dressed in traditional African robes; blue birds speckled on a white outer garment. He was seated on a wooden chair underneath a veranda outside his house. Greetings are an important part of Burkinabe culture, partly because they provide a way of showing respect to one’s seniors.   We bowed as we shook hands with the Naba, having taken off our shoes before crossing the threshold. Thus the diplomatic codes were observed! We then sat in a circle, introduced ourselves in the local moore language, and explained in French/English the aims of our project. The Naba was a man in the autumn of his years, who listened with a calm authority to our explanations, and spoke softly of his approval. Overall the meeting was a real success. On ICS we have seen how individualism a prominent value in UK society, but in Burkina Faso the harmony of the community is given greater emphasis. In this context, it was important to gain the local Naba’s blessing for our activities. Hopefully this will help to ensure the sustainability of our project in the years to come! 

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