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close this bookThe Courier N 160 - Nov - Dec 1996 - Dossier Habitat - Country reports: Fiji , Tonga (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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View the documentJacques Bugnicourt, Executive Secretary of Enda Tiers Monde

Jacques Bugnicourt, Executive Secretary of Enda Tiers Monde

The main development battle must be fought in the towns and cities

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 institute.

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 independent, then?

- 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 advantages.

· 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 in practice?

- 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 the future?

- 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 measure.