Why training rural people in West Africa in advocacy: an interview with Illia Djadi, April 2022

Illia Djadi, a former BBC journalist and advocacy expert, has provided several advocacy trainings to village relays of the Watigueleya Kèlê project (Climate Resilience in West Africa). In order to provide them with advocacy skills and techniques applicable at the local level, he gave a first training to villagers from the three project countries (Mali, Guinea, Senegal) in Bandafassi in May 2021. This introduction was further developed in a workshop with Malian villagers, which concluded with a meeting with the authorities at the governorate. In the near future, he will lead similar workshops for village relays in Senegal and Guinea. 

– Given the existence of many NGOs and associations specialising in advocacy, why is it important to give people access to advocacy tools?

First of all, I would like to remind you that advocacy is a trendy term in the NGO world, both at the international and local levels. Until recently, it was the exclusive domain of human rights organisations. Today, development actors have appropriated this theme and have fully integrated it into their terminology and planning. This is the result of reflection and evaluation of development tools that have shown their limitations. We remember the « ready-made » projects designed and implemented in the 1980s in Africa by the Bretton Woods institutions in particular, which claimed to develop the poor countries of Africa. In the field, these projects were confronted with local realities; the farmers were not involved, and these methods were never integrated. Finally, it came clear that the projects had failed miserably, that millions of dollars had been invested for nothing, and that the people had become more dependent than they had been before. It was therefore necessary to take these experiences into account and rethink the approaches for interventions on the ground in favour of the populations. The approach has changed and now includes the farmers in the planning process, under the term « local development ». Previously considered as recipients, farmers are now the actors in planning. This is a major change. In addition, over time, the theme of advocacy has emerged: involving farmers in the very identification of problems and in the design of solutions. As I said in the trainings, for every local problem there is a local solution. It is important to enable local people to become familiar with and appropriate the practice of advocacy, both in the field of development and in such a sensitive area as environmental conservation. Advocacy is no longer the preserve of professionals today. Farmers have ceased to be observers or « tools ». There is a need for training that enables farmers to directly appropriate these concepts and to think about solutions to their problems.

– When we talk about training people at the local level, who are we talking about? 

Some issues affect certain groups more than others. For example, women are more exposed to the problem of access to water, and therefore more likely to be involved at this level. However, men also need to be involved, especially in the construction and maintenance of wells. In the villages, people are organised into associations, gender groups and age groups. There are also those in positions of power, such as the village chief and neighbourhood leaders. In the advocacy training process, everyone must be taken into account, whether they are the recipients or the decision-makers. For there to be a sustainable solution, we need to involve the actors at all levels, so that they can understand and integrate the different tools, and so that the whole community is at the same level of information for finding an appropriate and sustainable response.

-What skills are important to transmit and by what methods? 

In the training provided, we address rural populations, some of whom have not been to school. We have to adapt the training so that they can receive and integrate it. We are not in the framework of an academic training with lectures. This is the challenge: how to translate these concepts and make them accessible to farmers? We have seen in the few seminars we have had that a large number do not speak French: we had to resort to two simultaneous translations to ensure that all participants could follow the training. Personally, I don’t call it training, it’s a facilitation, a dialogue to accompany these people and to stimulate reflection on the problems they are facing. The idea is that they themselves can draft solutions that are adapted to their reality. 

The trainer must also have sufficient knowledge of the realities of the village to be able to put himself in the skin of the farmers. Some practices are both a necessity and a danger when they get out of control (e.g., bush fires). It is necessary to understand the complexity of the situation, to see the importance of this practice, the danger it represents and how to manage it. During our trainings, we were able to have these exchanges, including between communities. Villagers from Mali, Senegal and Guinea sometimes experience similar realities across borders and can be inspired by an effective solution developed by another village. They have learned from each other. Even within the same country, such as Mali, we have seen different approaches to the same problem in different villages. These exchanges during the facilitations are essential.

We do not come with turnkey solutions, we accompany the farmers in their search for solutions and we help them discover the tools that are available. We know that farmers have difficulties to access the administration from rural areas, and often have a form of complex. The accompaniment consists in facilitating the meeting between the technicians of the State and the farmers. During the last advocacy training session conducted for farmers in Malian villages of the Climate Resilience in West Africa project, we felt that the barriers had been broken down. At the end of this meeting, the villagers understood that government agents are at the service and disposal of the farmers. The workshop helped to break down these walls and make the administration more accessible. 

It is also about making visible the problems that the villages are facing, access to water, access to health. Today, with the expansion of social networks and the fact that almost every farmer has a cell phone, the villagers can really be actors of this visibility. How to make visible and mobilize around a problem? How to get the State to react? The use of media and social networks has become very important in this advocacy dynamic. In the training sessions, we explained the importance of social networks and the media. We put them in contact with journalists, with local bloggers. They understood that they could also participate in this communication chain: farmers can film an event, send it to the media, which can relay this information, amplify it and in a way force the administration to intervene. The use of the media, communication and the link with the administration are therefore at the heart of advocacy.

– Are there critical advocacy moments, and therefore a need for more training at certain times? 

Yes, there are. We also showed them the importance of seizing certain opportunities, around specific events or according to current events, in order to be heard more. In Mali, on the eve of the national conference, a major political debate is taking place: this is an opportunity. As the elections approach, the candidates get closer to the voters and listen to the people. We must take advantage of this to talk about the problems encountered, to demand actions from the future governors! There are occasions that are conducive to large-scale advocacy actions, where it is necessary to mobilize. In a Sahelian society, we can also mention the importance of griots, artists. Mali, Guinea and Senegal all have great artists, who can bring issues to the national level, for example on environmental preservation. Artists like Salif Keita or Youssou Ndour have a voice that carries loudly and can lead advocacy and awareness-raising actions, whether at the level of the population to change mentalities or at the level of decision-makers to act.

– What do you remember about your advocacy training for villagers in the framework of the Climate Resilience in West Africa program?

First of all, it was a real pleasure for me to work with these communities, these farmers from Senegal, Guinea, Mali, with whom we introduced the training in May 2021 in Bandafassi (Senegal). The Kayes training for Malian villagers was an opportunity to deepen our work with a more homogeneous group, coming from the same country, sharing the same land. The exchanges observed in Kayes convinced us of the validity of the approach and the need to extend it to other members of the project, in Senegal and Guinea. The Mali experience also allowed us to measure and test some of the facilitation methods and perhaps make adjustments in future workshops. 

In addition, this experience allowed us to « break the ice » between the citizens and the administrators, to change the conception of the relationship with the authority. The exchanges were of such quality that we saw telephone numbers being exchanged between the villagers and the agents. They could not believe that they could sit in the same room, in the governorate, the highest regional authority, with the governor, the highest authority. The governor spoke in very accessible language, the atmosphere was relaxed, and they understood, felt that the administrators are actually partners. So a framework was created so that this partnership could be established, so that they could work together and produce sustainable results. 

Interview by Aline Desdevises 


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