New Internationalist

Some things stay the same… Some change dramatically

Issue 389

Many village activities carry on exactly as they did 20 years ago – and presumably for decades before that. Rupiatu Moné and Ramatu Gengané (above) are among the first to start harvesting their millet. Ramatu is using a daba, an all-purpose tool that also serves as a hoe in the planting season. Women still pound and winnow grain in preparation for meals – though the pounding may be delegated to girls like Safietu (below), who is actually crushing haricot beans.

The pictures below, however, show how much more a part of the modern, globalized world the area has become. The centre of the nearby town Garango has utterly changed since 1995. The magnificent tree that once dominated the centre has, sadly, been toppled to make way for the new tarmac main road (le goudron) from Tenkodogo. More significantly still, electrification finally arrived in 2002 and, as one local observed: ‘A town is not really a town until it has electricity.’

With the electricity have come cellphones (portables in French) – Garango boasts two separate phone masts owned by competing networks – and every other shop here and in other settlements along the major roads in Burkina seems to be a recharging or top-up point. Laying phone landlines was always going to be impossible but mobiles have effectively allowed many rural Africans to skip a stage in communications technology. It took me over a week to discover it, but there is even an internet café in Garango now – in the last house on the southern edge of town.

The picture above draws together two more of the most common sights in Burkina. The bottles are filled with fuel for mobilettes and motorbikes, which are much more plentiful than they were a decade ago. The David Beckham shirt is also typical – an astonishing number of boys and young men wear ersatz shirts bearing the names of the world’s top footballers such as Ronaldinho and Del Piero. As a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur I thought this was one place in the world where I could be spared the sight of our rival team Arsenal’s shirts, but no – and highlights of matches in the English Premiership are shown on Burkinabè TV on Monday nights.

Cultural imperialism? For sure. But no-one here would choose to turn back the clock.

Ousmane is one of 10 cellphone owners in the central part of Sabtenga alone (nine men and one woman). He says of it: ‘Yes, it’s true that having a mobile phone means it’s another thing you have to find the cash to pay for. But it’s so useful – it’s such a wonderful way of keeping in touch with people and hearing the latest news. Look at that – a text just arrived from François in Ouaga to say he’ll be coming down to bring his mother home at the end of the month; I’ll remember you to him and let him know that you’re sitting beside me.’

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