Jacques Bugnicourt, Executive Secretary of Enda Tiers Monde
The main development battle must be fought in the towns and
Founded in 1972, Enda Tiers Monde ('Enda' stands for
'environment and development') is one of the few large international NGOs to be
based in a developing country. It has a presence in a number of states in
Africa, Latin America and Asia and has been concentrating its efforts on towns
and cities, in the belief that this is where deprived populations can be best
assisted. Jacques Bugnicourt, who is Enda's Executive Secretary, has some strong
views about what needs to be done to tackle the problem of urban deprivation.
When we interviewed him at the Enda headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, we began by
asking him about the history of the organisation that he heads.
- When we launched Enda, I am not sure that we had any
particular goal in mind. You would have to go back to the end of the 1950s, with
the war in Indochina, the approaching conflict in Algeria, the independence of
countries in Africa and the last-ditch struggles of the colonial powers, notably
France. It was in Paris that links were forged between activists from many
Third-World countries - in particular, we all took part in the street
demonstrations mounted by people from the French colonies. There were some very
strong groupings like the Federation of Students from Black Africa, and its
equivalents set up by students from the Maghreb, Latin America and Asia. Ten
years later, in the 1970s, we could see that the independence experiment was
turning sour and the hopes we vested in the actions of determined and brilliant
people had come to nothing. The United Nations was becoming increasingly
bureaucratic. Some of our friends and colleagues who had government posts had
their hands tied, while others were in prison and were equally powerless. In
addition, the communists were disappointed at not being able to apply their
doctrine to local conditions. Some did, in fact, manage to achieve small-scale
results locally when working at the grass-roots, but by and large, their efforts
were not successful. I came to Dakar, where I taught in a United Nations
A lot of people had theories. But you cannot take up the battle
for the poor without the poor themselves, or for those under the yoke of
colonial rule without the participation of the subjugated population. To begin
with, you have to appreciate the diversity of the various peoples in developing
countries, and be aware of their daily life and struggle. Cesaire wrote that you
had to ask questions about the soil, about cities, about men and about the sun.
Later, once you have done this, you can act.
We need to dismantle the barriers. There can be no agronomy
without economics, and no economics without sociology. If you are talking about
jobs in Senegal, you also must talk about jobs in Mali and Guinea - treat Africa
as a whole. Another thing is that you have to stand up for yourself and not
allow yourself to be manipulated by people from the developed countries. One of
the major problems we have noticed is that part of Africa's elite is out of
touch with the general population.
These are the underlying reasons for the foundation of Enda.
Nowadays, it is a non-profit-making international organisation working with
various communities - an 'INGO', if you like, with the 'I' standing for
'international'. We have bases almost everywhere in the Third World, from Ho Chi
Minh City to La Paz.
· Is each section of Enda
- Yes. We took the view that there was a danger of becoming too
centralised and acting like a small-scale UNICEF or UNESCO, so we decided to
guard our independence very carefully. We opted for the widest-ranging autonomy
possible. This has its drawbacks of course, but these are far outweighed by the
· You mention drawbacks. Would
it be true to say that the original enthusiasm which greeted the creation of
Enda has fallen off somewhat?
- That's something we are always concerned about. It is not
structures which maintain cohesion, but the sharing of goals and the channelling
of our actions towards the common good.
When the various sections get together, we find that we have a
great many things in common. But there is no good reason why those of us in
Dakar should try to influence the way people work in working-class districts in
Santo Domingo, for example, where they are trying to tackle problems like AIDS
and unemployment. We simply tell them what we are doing here and vice versa. If
you want to serve the people, you have to have a decentralised set-up. It would
be wrong to deal with a problem centrally, and to do so would be against our
instincts. Most of us have no particular liking for institutions. An institution
must be of service in the battle, not the other way round.
· How do you guarantee cohesion
- It costs a great deal to travel of course, but we do have a
lot of joint programmes. For example, the cities programme includes people from
Bogota, Santo Domingo, Rabat, Dakar, Ho Chi Minh City and Bombay, all working
together. They meet from time to time and, when they do, it is to get down to
practical work. Together, their work is, say, three-quarters practical and one
quarter reflective. Nevertheless, there is ongoing tension, particularly in the
relationship between overall policy and local demands. Another conflict arises
between grass-roots action and reflection.
· The impression one gets is
that you yourself are the 'cement' between the various groups which make up
Enda. Could this not be seen as a weakness which may make things difficult in
- That's what other people say, not what I think. I try to make
my presence useful and those who come after me will do the same. What really
holds us together is our belief in what we are doing. It is not a question of
adhering to some kind of 'monolithic' faith. We simply believe that we can be of
use, recognising that there are many limitations. Let me give you a practical
example. If someone involved in recycling in Bogota were to meet up with someone
from a poor district in Dakar who works at the rubbish tip, they would have a
great deal in common and would find it useful to compare their problems and
consider practical ways of solving them together.
· What are your most important
activities in Senegal?
- By far the most important is the one covering the city of
Dakar. As well as being a focus for the country itself, Dakar is a metropolitan
centre for the entire sub-region, with influence over Bamako, Conakry, Bissau
and perhaps even Praia in Cape Verde and Nouakchott in Mauritania. What happens
here has repercussions in all those cities. I do not want to sound too dramatic,
but the decisive factor in our destiny will be the fate of young people and the
poor in the major cities. Two-thirds of these people are facing chronic
problems. Those under twenty make up more than half the population and their
lives are continuing to spiral down into poverty.
Enda should obviously be operating in those areas where it can
be of most use. And in the context of towns and cities, we have completely
reviewed our strategy. For some years we gave priority to the countryside. For a
long time, in fact, we believed that rural development would permit a much
improved urbanisation process. There was even the view that people in developed
countries would not object to paying a little more for agricultural produce,
because they could be certain that the money was going to those who actually
grew the cotton, groundnuts, cocoa or whatever.
Over the last fifteen years or so, though, we have come round to
the view that our actions must be directed principally at towns and cities. We
found initially that there were some interesting projects involving small groups
- working to improve the position of children or banding together in cooperative
savings ventures. It was good, long-term work which gave results. But that is
all out of date now. We have to speak in terms of much larger numbers - tens of
thousands and not tens or hundreds. Otherwise, there is no chance of making a
real difference. That is why we have considerably altered our strategy. Three
years ago, approximately two thousand children were able to go to holiday camps.
Most of these holidays were paid for by companies, but fewer than 10% of the
beneficiaries were genuinely poor. Last year, no fewer than 10 000 children were
sent away on five days' holiday - to the coast near Dakar. Enda was involved in
this programme working with 200 local cultural and sports associations. The idea
was to give the children the chance to splash about in the sea, but also to use
African resources to help them become full citizens and learn that our diversity
is the source of our wealth. There are at least 100 000 children living in
misery and many of them could end up joining the ranks of the street children.
If you can give these youngsters five days holiday plus a bit of follow-up, you
allow friendships to be built. It offers a brief escape from everyday reality.
It may not be paradise, but it is something tangible.
Another example is the tontines that have been formed into a
federation. We currently have nineteen thousand women participating in these and
if you bear the large family sizes in mind - there are perhaps ten people in
every family - that represents a lot of people. The women pay into the tontines
and the money is used, not just for the security of their immediate family, but
also to help young people set themselves up.
Then there is rubbish collection. Enda runs its own scheme but
there are also a number of groups that have turned rubbish collection into a
profession. The young people collect the rubbish and recycle it. There are about
50 000 people in the biggest district where we are involved in rubbish
collection. There are also some young people in that district who are engaged in
water recycling and although it only involves supplying about a hundred people
at the moment, I believe this scheme will grow.
We also organise schools and are currently involved in making
films for schools on the subjects of the environment, hygiene and solidarity.
· Enda has just opened an
'eco-centre'. If I understand it correctly, this is a showcase to promote a
horizontal link between Enda's various activities.
- That is right. We want it to be a place of passage, meeting,
exhibition, permeation and redistribution. We hope people will feel comfortable
there, and that it will be a tool symbolising a new way of working. So the
centre offers an experience, but we also want it to be used to promote activity.
A variety of events have been organised there simultaneously - recently for
example, a meeting of shoe-shiners, a gathering of teachers from a long-standing
educational centre, an exhibition for the Biennial Festival of Contemporary
African Art, and a local-community meeting about setting up a small production
facility. Two days earlier, there was a preliminary holiday-camp meeting where
the instructors got together to look at the best available teaching methods
designed to make children more aware of the importance of solidarity. We believe
that solidarity is essential in tackling problems.
So the centre has a multitude of uses, all of which contribute
to the vitality of the local economy. You have to understand the crucial
importance of the local economy. It responds to all the basic needs of the
poorest people, who want to live their lives just like the rest of us.
· You talk of depending on the
local (what some would call the informal) economy to live - or at least survive.
But this sector is not viewed with enthusiasm by the international authorities?
- Their policy is based on domination and fear: fear of those
who accumulate assets. To see these hordes of people in the developing countries
frightens them. It's a bit like the horror of the wealthy classes at the end of
the nineteenth century when faced with a working class which dared to aspire to
wealth. They will give to charity but are not prepared to make a long-term
investment. The lack of support for the local economy stems from the fact that
foreign aid is geared, first and foremost, towards major projects or emergency
aid. Four or five years ago, the UN conducted a survey in 10 towns and cities in
West Africa, but the results were not published because they showed that the
average rate of growth of the local economy was 7.5%. So, you see, we are far
from just muddling along. Great things could be achieved if only there were a
change in attitude. It also requires a change of terminology. How can one
justify the use of the word 'informal' and, worse still, treat the work of the
poorest people and fraudulent activities under the same heading. Fraud may be
formal or informal. Knowing African society as I do, I am aware that fraud is
statistically more widespread amongst the prosperous and highly respected. So we
must not cast stones at the little man selling socks who has no trading licence
because he cannot afford one, or at the woman who sets up a stall at a school
entrance without complying with the law which requires a recent certificate
stating that she does not have tuberculosis. What is the bottom line here? Must
we respect the law or the people who want to live without being thieves, beggars
or prostitutes? It is unacceptable for force to lie with the law and for the
majority to be cast into wretchedness.
In Senegal, there used to be fixed prices for milk. The World
Bank protested, declaring that this was a restriction on free competition. Now
we have to pay much more and many people can no longer afford to give their
children-milk every day.
To put it in perspective, Senegal's economy is about the same
size as that of the city of Bordeaux. So we must use all the available
potential. Highly qualified managers should do their job looking after the
high-tech sectors. But, at the same time, we should not be driving out the poor
people who are just trying to eke out a living. The informal sector creates
services for a very small investment, and people also require services. Economic
policy must allow society to walk on two legs, not just one. What that means is
that we need a great deal of flexibility, and perhaps a complete review of the
law. Contraceptive implants have to be licensed so that there are no more
back-street abortions. And it must be possible for girls to attend school even
if they do not have a proper birth certificate - why should they be excluded
from education for want of a piece of paper. It should be possible to trade with
a simple one-day ticket which people should be able to buy in post offices or
cinemas. What would be wrong with that? And we should have a moratorium on a
number of regulations. We need to wage war on the destitution that we are
suffering and that means taking decisive