An African Village

A single African village? Why should we read about that? That might very well be your response when you see the title of this issue. And if I add that this village is in one of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso, in an unpromising environment far from the nation’s capital, you might be even more reluctant to turn the page.

But you can often learn a lot more by looking at the lives of people in one small community than by reading a thousand learned tomes full of theories and statistics. That’s certainly been true for me. I spent my 30th birthday in this village, Sabtenga, in 1985. Its people invited me into their homes, told me their life stories and suddenly I understood, in a way I never had before, how much I had in common with them – despite all the vast differences in culture, education and wealth.

And I think I could make a case that the stories they have told me since – on my return in 1995, and again now, two decades on – teach us as much as a whole conference worth of academic papers on African poverty. This, after all, is the acid test for a world that claims to care about the poor: have these villagers’ lives improved? Has the gap between us and them narrowed or widened? How have they been affected by globalization? Have they even been touched by ‘development’?

The people you will meet in the pages that follow – Mariama and Ousmane, Zenabou and Adama – have no learned qualifications, no letters after their name. But on these subjects they are the real experts.

Chris Brazier for the
New Internationalist Co-operative

mag cover This article is from the May 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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