A somewhat discouraging conversation concerning libraries in Burkina Faso

Last week I visited one of the villages where FAVL supports a library. We had an appointment at the office of the mayor. We walked up to the municipal building. A village woman was standing there with a man. The man was wearing a suit (no tie). Nicely dressed. I supposed he must be someone who works in mayor’s office, maybe the SG (the secretaire generaie, equivalent of the chief of staff, the person who actually gets everything done). He doesn’t acknowledge our presence until we get very close. Donkoui greets him, but he abruptly turns around signaling to me to come with him but he says loudly to Donkoui “You are to wait out here.” Something in the tone and manner tells me this is a joke. And indeed it is. One of the nice things about Burkinabe culture… the famous “parente a plaisanterie” means that it is easy for people to tease each other, even in very official settings. So Donkoui does follow me in, some paces back. The banter of whether Donkoui is even allowed into the mayor’s office continues until we finally sit down

Introductions. He is indeed the SG. The mayor cannot make it. I know, I say, I just spoke with him 30 minutes before. (I had called him that morning as we were driving into Hounde.) We then proceed with the usual discussion. The mayor and the council are very appreciative of the library and the assistance offered by FAVL. The problem of meeting the financial requirements of the convention is something they are working on. They think the current budget will be approved and be OK for the salary of librarian. But they are having difficulty to make the librarian a permanent employee of the library. I say the usual phrases. Our support for library is not permanent unless commune is fully involved and that means librarian is full employee of the commune. We continue to exchange platitudes along these lines: “It is hard,” “Libraries are the future,” “Children are the future,” “Reading is essential for the future of the children.”

Then the SG leans back. The main conversation is over. We start some banter, winding down the meeting. He says, “You know, the mayor and I were talking about this the other day. And we both agreed about how important reading is, and that libraries are essential. The mayor said to me why should there only be one library. Why not have more libraries? For example, why not have a library right here in the compound of the commune offices (la mairie, in French). Imagine if we had a new library right over there (he points outside the window). Everyone comes here (the mayor’s compound is at the outskirts of the village; the existing library is maybe 500 meters away, a 10 minute walk, in the middle of the village). We would be able to be sure it was working properly.” I could only smile and agree that it was indeed pleasant to imagine a library right outside the window. Inside I was practically stunned. How could he treat this so trivially; how could someone  think that a village of 2,000 people needed two public libraries 500 meters apart? Was it really the case that they had had a conversation like that, or was he just trying to flatter me?!

Ah, l’Afrique c’est pas facile!

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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2 Responses to A somewhat discouraging conversation concerning libraries in Burkina Faso

  1. Krystle says:

    I think the better question is why he thinks that you will build a second library in the village when he (and the mayor) can’t even drum up local support for the library and librarian that they have!

  2. mkevane says:

    Yes exactly but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt he was maybe thinking he was just shooting the breeze….

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