Making a success of life in the village
For the vast majority of Africans from a rural background, a
return to the village after a spell in the city means failure. People from the
country tend to think that they are born peasants and doomed to a hard life and
often a poor one, with none of the modern comforts of the town. All youngsters
in villages dream of going to the town, but when they do, the living conditions
and problems of finding work dispel their illusions fast. It is a disappointment
and it soon becomes clear that living decently means going back to the village.
But does that really spell failure?
Issue n° 78 of Agripromo, published by INADES-Formation,
which promotes the rural world in Africa, is about making a success of life in
It contains plenty of village success stories, underlines the
importance of village economic activity and suggests that peasants do not need
to go to the big city to earn a decent living, fulfil themselves and be happy.
Here is a resume of this issue full of ideas, successes and
The first article says that village living is indeed hard, but
that, in Michel Bahon's experience you can have a better life there than in
town'. Michel Bahon is a carpenter who was properly trained and saw his dream of
setting up in the capital come true. But look how much it cost! He had to lease
a workshop, rent accommodation, pay for transport, pay for gas, pay for water
and more -- not to mention look after all his 'brothers' from the village, who
came to try their luck in the big city, and who he was honour bound to support.
In the end, he had to spend everything he earned, was unable to save and was in
no position to go and help his ageing mother back home.
So Mr Bahon decided to wind up his carpentry business in the
city and go back and settle in the village. Being a good carpenter with modest
prices, he soon had a decent clientele. The only problem was that close
relatives who ordered work, took delivery but never paid the bills. So Mr Bahon
asked for a downpayment before he started a job and only delivered when he had
been paid in full. There were storage problems as a result, but he solved them.
He is now comfortably off. He earns a lot less than he did in
the city, but his expenses are far lower in the village. There is always money
in the bank, he is near enough to look after his old mother, he is married and
he is happy.
Youngsters get organised
Villages are usually full of young people and they often get
together and take initiatives of their own. Most of them have already tried
their luck in the city and have come home disappointed and bitter, but they are
still pleased to be back in the family, with a roof over their heads and plenty
to eat every day. But what sort of a life is it without money or entertainment?
Above all, what sort of life is it without work?
There were 22 young people like this in K's village. They helped
their parents in the fields, of course, but they were very bored and wanted to
earn money of their own so as not to depend on their families for everything.
'We decided to form an association to help our parents harvest
their crops. We knew that outside labour was expensive at harvest time and had
to be paid in cash, furthermore, which made our parents feel that they were
being robbed. So we offer to harvest complete fields and the owner feeds us
while we get the job done and we get a tub of rice for every hectare harvested
at the end of it. We are in great demand, because we are very enthusiastic about
the work. We even have a team which comes with us to provide back-up and
The group, which takes all its decisions at regular meetings,
stocks the rice it earns and sells it at a profit between seasons and it also
has a husker and sells paddy rice for seed.
'We are pleased and our parents are proud of us. In record time,
the group has managed to buy sports equipment and we have F 800 000 in the bank.
We put into practice what we have learned in our individual fields and our
output is going up. Socially, we do a lot too. We clean the village and the
water point regularly, for example, and we make financial and physical
contributions to village ceremonies and association members' house construction.
What we want to do now is set up a village pharmacy fund, which we hope will be
both profitable for us and of service to the community.'
The coxers of Guehibly
The coxers are another example of young people forming an
association. Guehibly is a village on the Man-Abidjan highway in western Cot'Ivoire. One day, three young people with nothing to do were standing at the
roadside watching the cars, and buses go by. Right next to them were five
people, travellers, waiting in the hope that a bus driver would be kind enough
to stop for them. But this was to no avail, since passengers are supposed to be
picked up only at official stops where there is a man from the bus company to
sell tickets. So the youngsters, who were keen to help, went and stood in the
middle of the road and flagged down a minibus. The people got on and-what a
surprise-the driver gave the boys CFAF 500 for each new passenger! This gave
them an idea, but... let them tell the story themselves.
'We were pleasantly surprised. We weren't expecting money. We
only wanted to help. But we said to ourselves that there was money to be made
here under our very noses and we ought to get organised and make the most of it.
So we built a papo shed by the side of the road opposite the market and fitted
it out with four benches, a chair and a small table and now anyone waiting can
sit down in comfort, out of the sun and rain. They can even have a drink or a
snack, because girls who sell cakes and sweets and water come right up by our
shelter. What we charge depends on where people are going. For Abidjan, for
example, it's CFAF 500.'
The coxers offer other services for travellers, organising group
trips and locating lost baggage, but the big thing is that they have branched
out into other village services.
'We decided that we would mend the village pump and pay for it
ourselves and, in return, the village let us look after the management of it. We
sell the water so there is enough money to keep the pump operating properly and
to give ourselves a bit of income...
We organise dances to liven up the village -we rent a music
machine from a school teacher-and adults pay CFAF 100 and young people CFAF 50
to come. Once we have paid our overheads, there is often CFAF 2500-3000 left
over for our funds. Then we clean the market and the main streets in the
village. When we do the market, we are paid CFAF 20 or 25 for every trader, but
the street cleaning is voluntary work and we do it because we are fond of our
village. It earns us the esteem of the villagers and the elders too. Lastly, we
work a field of rice and maize for our own needs.'
A mine of information
This issue of Agripromo is a mine of information.
There are detailed figures of one man's own project; the
experience of a tailor who left the town and went back to his village, continued
tailoring and grew rice, yams and maize and raised small animals too. The
article lists and gives figures for the many things which this man had to do.
There is a dossier giving a range of possible village
activities. People can farm, of course, but they can also be tractor mechanics,
sellers of seed and fertiliser, repairers of pumps and mills and so on.
And then there is an article entitled: 'Can a peasant earn more
than a civil servant?' The article proves that he can. Whoever would have
'Genius put off by the smell of rice'
This is the playful title of an article which points out that
village traditions have to be taken into account in any return to the land. 'New
peasants', encouraged and assisted by the state or NGOs, often try to run
projects which have been designed by politicians or technicians who are anxious
to help the Africans out of poverty, but know nothing about village life. The
following quotation makes a fitting conclusion.
'The villages are poor, but they are at one with nature.
Traditional society has its rules and its laws; it has its customs and taboos
and failure to take them into account may well destroy projects with undeniable
socio-economic advantages. So when ways of developing villages are being
investigated, the villagers themselves have to be involved in the process from