Who Are You and Why Are You Here?

Who Are You and Why Are You Here?

Tales of International Development

By Jacques Claessens, Translated by Nigel Spencer


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Every international development project looks good on paper until someone asks, “Who are you and why are you here?” In this case, it’s a man from northern Burkina Faso. His question reveals everything wrong with international development work today.

Jacques Claessens questions the real effects of development programs and agencies, NGOs, and multinational corporations on the economy and welfare of the global south—from a Kafkaesque well-drilling project in Udathen to the Chernobyl-like environmental devastation wrought by the Canadian-owned Essakane mine. Through tales of uneasy encounters between nomadic Tuaregs and Western engineers, well-meaning NGO staff and their incredibly self-serving bosses, UN bureaucrats, a greedy Canadian mining company, and Burkinabe villagers–all pursuing ostensibly noble goals, all barely listening to each other–we begin to understand the realities of international development.


“Change a few names, places, and organizations, and most development professionals will recognize their colleagues and field acquaintances in the colourful cast of characters Claessens weaves into his narrative about the vagaries of international development work. This engagingly written insider story is a must-read for those who may never visit the field themselves, but who are ardent consumers of international development marketing spin—the kind of spin used to raise funds to pay for more of the same kinds of blunders that Claessens documents.”

– Adam D. Kiš, associate professor of anthropology, Burman University and author of The Development Trap: How Thinking Big Fails the Poor

“Jacques Claessens gives us an insider’s rich account of how ‘international development’ actually works or, often, fails to work. With humor and colorful anecdotes, Claessens shows how the lack of real consultation can squander funds and opportunities, leaving little behind. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the genuine advancement of the world’s poor.”

– Ernest Harsch, Institute of African Studies, Columbia University

“This is a sobering, painful, and often humorous chronicle, which brutally questions the business of externally imposed ‘development’ with scant attention to cooperation in Africa and elsewhere. This is not a book to read and put away. Every line matters and demands action.”

– Nnimmo Bassey, environmental justice advocate and author of To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa


Editor’s Note
Eugene Boelens
Preface The Abyss
Normand Baillargeon
Burkina and the Sahel
The southern forests
Fifteen years later
Mining Eldorado
Epilogue I had a dream...
Principal acronyms