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  • Derrière la vitrine du développement: aménagement forestier et pouvoir local au Burkina Faso
  • Mark Breusers
Sita Zougouri, Derrière la vitrine du développement: aménagement forestier et pouvoir local au Burkina Faso. Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology 44. Uppsala: Universitetsbiblioteket (pb – 978 9 15547 261 0). 2008, xx+274 pp.

This book grapples with what is known to be a successful development project implemented in a number of villages in the south of Burkina Faso. The ‘development window’ dressed for outsiders displays a forestry scheme combining long-term conservation with wood production for urban areas and income generation for local actors. Sita Zougouri takes the reader along a fascinating journey to uncover the struggles hidden by, yet producing this window and the processes of inclusion and exclusion by which they are [End Page 618] accompanied. In doing so, she not only shows, in good anthropology-of-development tradition, how an externally planned scheme is reworked on the basis of local organizing practices and values, but also elucidates its complex intertwinement with several issues of topical interest for the understanding of social and political change in the region.

The first part of the book presents an ethnographically strong analysis of the social, political and religious context in which the forestry scheme was received and that gave the scheme its particular form and dynamics. The author interweaves her own entry into the field with an introduction to the intricacies of the local scene. The main character is the village priest, whose relations with other villagers were transformed from reciprocal to exploitative as the source of his legitimacy shifted from internal to external support networks. This shift started in the early twentieth century, when the village priest was assigned the office of chief by the French colonial administration, to be accelerated later on, especially since the onset of the drive to democratization and decentralization in the 1990s, which entailed a revaluation of customary authorities throughout Burkina Faso and enabled the priest to further accumulate offices. Thus the priest succeeded in becoming an unavoidable interlocutor for any development initiative, the forestry scheme being no exception in that regard.

Zougouri demonstrates how the abstract ‘participation’ prescribed by development planners is translated in practice into a specific process of inclusion and exclusion. Claiming autochthony for themselves and accusing Moose and Fulbe migrants of environmentally destructive land use, the village chief and his close kinsmen turn the forestry scheme into an instrument of local politics aiming to restrict or reverse migration. However, relations between Nuna and migrants are shown to be far from univocal. Nuna elders establish alliances with migrants, allowing them to evade exactions imposed by the village chief. Also, several layers of host–stranger relationships govern the reception of and land allocation to migrants, permitting continued arrivals – notably of Moose who fled the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire – despite Nuna’s claim that new migrants can no longer be tolerated because of the saturation of space.

Hence, from the second part of the book, and especially from the case studies, the processes of political and economic strife emerge as far more complex, ambivalent and contradictory than ever could have been inferred from the simple model of dyadic relations, centred upon the all-powerful chief, initially proposed by the author. It is precisely the complexity of the layered and decentred power constellation that allows one to comprehend the contradictory outcomes of ongoing decentralization and democratization, on the one hand enabling the chief to strengthen his legitimacy basis, through his skilful positioning vis-à-vis government institutions and development initiatives, and, on the other hand, sowing the seeds for the subversion of the chief’s position as votes mobilized through alliances between migrants and Nuna elders bring to office a mayor able to withstand the chief’s authority.

This brings Zougouri to the interesting observation that, paradoxically, decentralization and democratization are welcomed not necessarily for the transfer of authority and resources from state to local collectivity, but – on the contrary – for making possible the transfer of authority from a local customary office holder to a democratically elected outsider.

Be this as it may, with regard to the central issue dealt...


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pp. 618-620
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