Small-scale communities in the border regions of Southern Senegal, Western Mali and Eastern Guinea have developed longstanding strategies allowing them to adapt to recurrent deep changes in political structure and social stratification that are typical of Frontier societies. Yet, from a national and international development perspective, these communities are seen as marginalised; their mobility patterns as an obstacle to civic participation in nation states and their multilingualism in small languages as a barrier to participation in education.
This project aims to generate a better understanding of resilience strategies and local knowledge as developed in those frontier communities to respond to ongoing ecological, economic and political stresses. By looking at mobility, multilingualism and social stratification reconfigurations as interrelated resilience strategies, the project aims at improving development initiatives in the region.
The overarching research question is: how have frontier societies responded to situations of ecological, economic and political stress on a micro level by developing specific resilience strategies, notably by sharing their own ideas and practices and producing specific knowledge?
Our project team brings together a unique combination of expertise in African history, social anthropology, sociolinguistics, law and literary studies for the first time and aims at constructing a synergistic approach with transformative and catalyst effect by collecting local knowledge that can be harnessed for development activities located at the intersections between poverty, environmental sustainability and conflict and fragility. The transformative aspect of this research relies on building knowledge networks across borders between frontier communities' stakeholders who otherwise would have little chance to connect and to share and compare their experiences and local knowledge. This cross-border knowledge networks will be facilitated by the organization in partnership with the organisation "Quand le village se réveille" of three training workshops with all stakeholders in each case study country, and the development of a mobile and accompanying website where historical and contemporary local knowledge data will be uploaded and made accessible to a wider local and international audience.
The research project is designed to have a significant impact on both frontier communities in West Africa and NGOs development work and outcomes in the region. Our main impact actions are the development of a mobile app, a website in collaboration with the Malian NGO "Quand le village se reveille", and a toolkit including a 20-min video on training for local knowledge data collection. The project builds on the existing Malian NGO's app and website which aims at preserving cultural heritage through connecting communities and generations with technology. Our project will record historical and contemporary knowledge and cultural practices which allow Frontier communities to construct resilience strategies in times of crisis and are thus beneficial for development. The project will be conducted with 10 stakeholders of from 5 villages (2 in Casamance, 2 in Mali and 1 in Guinea).
We will organise workshops to first train the stakeholders in data collection, video practice, media, website and mobile app use. This will directly impact their own knowledge and skills as they will then be able to connect and exchange knowledge rapidly across borders, creating an international network of local knowledge which they can in turn use not only to reinforce community development efforts but to further train people. The direct involvement of the stakeholders with local, national and international media will tremendously enhance the visibility and effective dissemination of such community-based knowledge production towards local development. It will raise the profile of those communities and accelerate the work of the local NGO "Quand le village se réveille".
During previous fieldwork, the populations in the selected villages have expressed on repeated occasions the demand to produce material on their own culture so that they can share it with visitors but also with school children, hence the idea of both building on an already existing successful mobile app and conceiving a toolkit ncluding a short video.
The project will also be directly relevant to NGOs and local authorities in Mali, Guinea and Casamance as they often struggle to navigate the complex social and economic landscape characteristic of Frontier societies, notably their local and regional mobility patterns and their multilingualism flexibly regulating land rights, land stewardship, political representation, continual renegotiation social relations (including gender relations) and the settling of incomers. The project will engage stakeholders, local NGOs and authorities to contribute to community-centred and locally informed development. Their access to this community-based knowledge and its use in their development work will be facilitated by the app and the website, as well as the toolkit and the 20-min video. We will measure the impact of the production of this knowledge material/data by monitoring the use of them by the local populations, including schools, and by the local NGOs and authorities.
If proven successful, the project research team might consider expanding the experience beyond these five villages in a subsequent project in collaboration with the "Quand le village ce réveille".