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In Mali, Eliciting Community Engagement in the Fight against Poverty through Performing Arts

January 15, 2010

BAMAKO, January 15, 2010— In Mali, Nyogolon is a popular form of theater that blends comedy, acrobatics, music, dance, and interaction with the public. This broad range of disciplines fused into a single genre can serve as a powerful vehicle for communicating directly with citizens at the grassroots level and build awareness about a given issue. In a country deeply rooted in oral tradition, it is only natural that this popular tool was used recently to communicate understanding of the national poverty reduction strategy.

Indeed three years after its implementation, the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (GPRSP) for the 2007–20011 period is still poorly understood by ordinary citizens who are called upon not only to help implement it, but also to monitor it daily and evaluate it periodically. For this reason, the capacity-building program for local GPRSP monitoring and evaluation, with assistance from the Luxembourg Partnership for Poverty Reduction and management support from the World Bank, hired the Malian theater group Welekan (“The Call”), to build awareness in villages regarding the meaning of poverty reduction, as described in the GPRSP.

The theater group toured six villages in two rural communes in the Koulikoro region near Bamako. The tour was aimed at helping the rural population gain a better understanding of their role in the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the GPRSP.  The first step was to secure buy-in by the people in these villages by helping them gain self-confidence and encourage their active involvement. This was followed by an assessment of the elements needed for local resource development, including human resources; and lastly, assignment of responsibilities to everyone in the village, particularly to women and young people, in a context of decentralization.

The plays were well-designed and touched on varied and relevant topics. These included rural exodus, education, health, the role of women and children, and assumption of responsibility for local development. The topics conveyed clear messages – “Assistance provided by authorities to local initiatives is merely a supplement; the contribution of the people is always necessary to support investment initiatives targeting development,” or “We are the only ones who can take charge of our development.”

Welcome Interaction with the Public

Performing before an upbeat crowd in a village square that was livelier than usual and well-lit for the event, the play opened with music and dancing to the sound of drums to warm up the public and set the tone. After this, the cast greeted the chief and prominent figures of the village with ten kola nuts as a mark of appreciation for the welcome received. They also saluted the women, “who are the pillars of support of the village”; and young people, "on whose shoulders the future rests."

The performance then began with an interactive play of question-response between actors and the audience. At the end of the play, a summary was provided either by the director of the group or a representative of the GPRSP technical unit, in order to ensure that the messages were understood. The performance closed in a lively ambiance of music and dancing in which both actors and spectators participated.

The actors struck the right tone, as only they could, given their familiarity with local conditions. “We understood the message; your performance offered a very accurate portrayal of our situation and is highly relevant to us,” confirmed Silamankan Traore, the interim village chief of Bougouni Sotiguila. “We did the right thing in coming out in such large numbers to participate in this celebration.”

Indeed, the theater group was appreciated by the people, particularly those living in rural areas, who saw it as a form of entertainment. After each performance, feedback could be obtained from the several hundred persons gathered in the village square, the vast majority of whom were women and young people.

The interactive nature of the performances made it possible to center the topic on the lives of the people and to provide them with a forum for discussion. The language used in the plays was adapted to and understood by the public, and the cast saw its performance as a whole composed of the play, musical animation, and a platform for discussion with the public. This animation created an open and upbeat atmosphere and the play set the stage for lively discussion.

We must thank you for this performance that captured the situation in our village. We are aware of the message conveyed and we are trying to heed it,” said Wre Traore, a resident of Seliba Village in the commune of Sanankoro Djitoumou in southeast Bamako.

Adopted in 2006, Mali’s GPRSP aims to achieve redistributive growth and poverty reduction by boosting productive sectors and consolidating public sector reforms, so as to achieve the well-being of all Malians.