|SPORE Bulletin of the CTA No. 44 (CTA Spore, 1993, 16 p.)|
These days men who have emigrated to Europe are no longer content simply to send money back home to their native villages in Africa. They undertake development projects which help to change the structure of society in their native land.
More than 60 000 immigrants, mostly of the Soninké ethnic group originating from the Senegal River Valley, are at present working in France. Like many other immigrants, for example those of Afro-Caribbean origin living in Britain, they have maintained economic links with their home villages.
Until the beginning of the eighties, although living on a shoe-string budget in Europe, they would send most of their savings back home without worrying too much about how these would be spent. But new laws on immigration, the institution of the 'carte de séjour' (residence permit) system, the economic crisis and unemployment have all combined to make their earnings less adequate. Those who return home are now not always replaced by others making their way to France and the so-called "emigration cash" looks likely to dry up.
This insecurity has changed the attitude of the immigrants. They are no longer willing to send off their hard-earned cash without knowing how it will be spent and then perhaps return home to find it misused. "The emigrant can no longer be considered as a source of unlimited income. What we want to set up are sustainable projects which will help our villages to manage without the money from its sons abroad," said one of these workers.
From Belleville to Podor
The Soninkés and Haapulaars living in Belleville or Ménilmontant have helped bring change to their home villages from afar. They work through associations created by migrant workers from the same village, sometimes as many as 100 to 300 people or even more. They collect money to build schools, dispensaries or a mosque, or even to set up market gardens, irrigation schemes, millet mills, or to improve live stock production. There are more than 400 of these associations in France, with names that translate into powerful symbols of their objectives: 'umbilical cord', 'solidarity', 'commitment', 'hopet or 'bright future'.
"The migrant workers are becoming innovators in the field of development back in their countries of origin," writes Christophe Daum of The Panos Institute. After they have spent some time in Europe they learn the value of collective action from their own experience of unions and associations.
In response to these initiatives many peasant, village or inter-village initiatives have been set up locally to promote development. In the Kayes region in Mali four production cooperatives have been set up by returning emigrants. These production units, described in detail in the book La rizière et la valise (The rice field and the suitcase), are nothing like the traditional, and more individual, methods of the Soninkés. Certain jobs, such as the very heavy manual labour or the preparation of meals, or training, are made easier by being undertaken together. "A small, close-knit group like that with the same objectives is more dynamic and more open to new ideas than a village group," says the author.
Another example of this change in thinking is the cooperative shop. Jean-Louis Couture of the Groupe de recherche et de réalisations pour le développement rural (GRDR) explains: "Instead of writing a blank cheque to the head of the family they order the most necessary goods to be delivered to the family and pay the shop manager or the emigrant association directly for them."
This spirit of progress can sometimes rebound on the migrants, as for instance when they decided to acquire tractors without prior planning. As Jean-Louis Couture emphasizes, "Solidarity, willpower, money and technology are not always sufficient to guarantee the successful running of these projects. Development only really works when the local people "own" the schemes. The contribution of the emigrants does not automatically ensure that the people back home will make projects of their own, as this depends on various factors."
GRDR - rural development research and projects group
GRDR is a non-governmental organization founded in 1969, whose aim is to provide technical support for projects concerning agriculture, family health and rural development initiated by emigrants from the Senegal River Valley.
GRDR holds evening classes, training weekends and courses so that migrant workers can learn more about the process of development, relate these to their own experience and learn about the techniques and organizations they want to set up in their villages. GRDR supports them throughout their projects from initial design to implementation.
GRDR, 8 rue Paul Bert, 93300, Aubervilliers, FRANCE
GRDR, BP 5001, Dakar, SENEGAL