Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Training sessions yesterday and tomorrow - for new PCVs. Big group, great attitude. For those familiar with Peace Corps and the traditional 3-month pre-service training, we have departed from that model, with a little over eight weeks training in basics before going out to post and then after a couple of months an intensive supplemental technical training. Niger is one of the first to try this in Africa.

Another item - Unicode-Afrique, a Yahoogroup I set up two years ago, marks two years of existence. A modest success, I think, with promise. It is far from the most active Africa & ICT list, but it seems to be filling a niche:

Il y a deux ans aujourd'hui qu'on a crée Unicode-Afrique comme instrument d'éducation, échange d'information, et même collaboration sur les potentialités de l'Unicode pour faciliter l'emploi des langues africaines dans l'informatique et sur l'internet.

Je voudrais prendre l'occasion de rémercier toutes et tous pour votre fidélité au groupe et pour avoir contribué vos questions, reponses et points de vue sur l'Unicode et les langues et écritures d'Afrique.

Que la prochaine année vous porte du succès dans vos travaux et nous permette de continuer et avancer les débats concernant l'Unicode et l'Afrique!
. . .

Back to Peace Corps ... APCDs, and Peace Corps staff generally, have their role described sometimes as in loco parentis, which is not really accurate since PCVs are are all well of age, but it does reflect our role in looking after basic safety & security, making sure that living conditions meet a certain minimum, etc.

A lot of what we APCDs do relates also to aspects of work and even providing advice/mentoring and other info. I had an interesting set of questions from one volunteer recently on vacation westward from Niger in West Africa which let me act momentarily in loco professoris. Anyway the questions and imprompt answers follow:

1. What role did peanuts play in the local economy before the French turned them in to a cash crop? How has the average Nigerien's use of the peanut and it's products changed?

The history of peanuts has been more prominent in countries west of Niger it seems. In Senegal as you saw it was big time economically and socially. Somewhat less so in Mali. In Niger there are not a lot of areas which can produce the crop that well. There was a peanut oil factory in the east of Niger, but either the crop production apparently couldn't support it or it was otherwise unprofitable.

Peanuts of course are native to Brazil, and like other new world crops (like corn) long ago found places in farming systems and foodways. The colonial emphasis on it in some areas may have increased its cultivation and use, but offhand I can't think of any study on this.

2. Why do Fulans and Wodabes seem so much less religious (Islam) in Niger than they do in Cameroon, Mali, Senegal?

Interesting question re Fulɓe and Islam. Up until the 1700s many Fulɓe were pagan (for lack of a better word). For various reasons there was a series of independent "revolutions" or reform movements in which Muslim Fulɓe took power in Fuuta Jalon (Guinea), ~1776; Sokoto & the Hausa states ~1804; Maasina (Mali) 1818; and Fuuta Tooro (Senegal River valley) mid-1800's. For a while you could actually talk of Fulaphone West Africa much as you do Francophone West Africa today (though nobody did).

The character of each was different. Fuuta Jalon was a theocracy with almost feudal hierarchy but an interesting system of rotation of power between two clans (which proved their undoing when the French could play them off against each other). Maasina also maintained the traditional "caste" system in the much more varied ethnic palette of the inland Niger delta, but is mostly known for a far-sighted reorganization of the herding system and interaction with agriculture.

I know less about Sokoto, but the Fulɓe involved apparently became pretty much absorbed into the Hausa state system (at the top), such that you'll sometimes read of Hausa-Fulani states (and one poorly researched article recently mentioned the "Hausa-Fulani tribe" of northern Nigeria). Between the Hausa states and Maasina (which includes Liptaako, Dori, western Niger), the Fulɓe were not as much caught up in it, and even less so in the open expanses to the north.

Fuua Tooro produced Al-Hajj Umar who battled the French in Senegal and when he lost a key battle in Medina on the Senegal River in 1852(?) turned his attentions eastward, conquering Kaarta (Bambara kingdom in western Mali) in 1860(?) and Segu (another more powerful Bambara kingdom) and Maasina in 1862. This is complex and the latter was the cause of some bitter blood and decades of chaos before the French took over.

I'm not as up on the situation in Adamawa (N. Cameroon) or why the Fulɓe are more Islamized there.

3. In Cameroon, the French left the Fulans in power when the country was granted independence? Did the colonizer favor Fulans in other countries as well? Why?

The relationship between the French and the Fulɓe was complicated in part by romantic notions of the origin of the latter and practical issues in that they found them in power in many places. I don't know my Cameroonian history well enough to say why Ahmadu Ahidjo et al were in power when the French left. I am aware that historically the Fulɓe in the north subjugated other peoples (and in fact ran across an interesting article once on the use of tree and bush plantings in that region for village defenses in that area - militaro-forestry?).

In other countries it was really a question of convenience. The Fulɓe had a bit of an advantage with the French in Guinea (they are still the largest group by a small margin) and indeed tended to vote for the French in the famous 1958 referendum in which the rest of the country didn't and which led to Sekou Touré's "non."

4. Why are grazing lands decreasing? Is it because of desertification, Hausas moving north and taking the land for farms, bigger herds, or some combination of these factors?

Combination of factors. More people either owning more animals or looking for more farmland, plus land-degradation and longer term trends in rainfall. I usually shy away from using "desertification" as it covers more than it reveals.

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