40 communities launch literacy courses for Burkina Faso politicians

29 May 2009

A full-scale literacy campaign for local politicians in rural areas has just been launched in Burkina Faso. 90 per cent of these politicians are illiterate and they have headed back to the classroom as mature students.

Thirty or so bicycles are parked in front of the wall of a rural school in Meguet, 140 kilometres to the north-east of Ouagadougou. The pupils in the class read together and out loud in Moré, "kuuda, duuba, duuba, ku."

Those who are learning, both women and men, range from 20 to 50 years old. All have been given important roles to play in the decentralization process which has divided the country into 351 administrative areas of which 302 are rural communities, and which has granted these areas a considerable degree of autonomy. Since 2006, local politicians have been responsible for the development and management of their communities. Among them, out of a total of 17,300 rural officials in Burkina Faso, 15,800 are illiterate. Those attending the literacy class in Meguet talk about the considerable frustration that this state of affairs entails.

"As a locally elected politician I represent the population in my area. After every meeting I make the minutes, but given that I have to learn everything by heart I quickly forget what I want to say. If I knew how to read and take notes I could be a better source of information and work better for my village," says Gambi Soudre who is a municipal councillor.

"All information about the new decentralization law is accessible in the local language but given that I am unable to read, I cannot carry out my activities well as a member of the development bureau of village councils," says Eliyasse Sawadogo Nabenda.

The literacy campaign is led by the Ministry for Basic Education and Literacy Training (MEBA) and the Ministry of Regional Government and Decentralization (MATD). The UNDP through the Project for Supporting Decentralization and Citizen Participation (ADEPAC) provides financial and technical support. For example, ADEPAC assisted in the preparation of facilitation and correspondence guides used in training, on how to manage a community and how to draw up records or minutes of meetings.

The course is divided into three phases with initial literacy training, encompassing approximately 300 school hours. The second phase provides basic expertise regarding decentralization and the third phase contains basic French and the management of socio-economic units.

"For the pilot phase we chose 40 communities," explains Saidou Kindo who is in charge of the training of local officials. "Based on our experience, we will be offering training to the other communities. At the end of this pilot phase we estimate that 1200 politicians will have completed the literacy course."

"This initiative is certainly welcome," emphasizes Pierre Raogo Kaboré, the mayor of Meguet. "We squander a good deal of experience and know-how due to our low literacy rate. That is truly the crux of the matter. We can give thousands of CFA francs to a community but unless these resources are well managed, it's a waste of effort."