Impact of the Patriarch’s Migration Experience and Social Status on Children’s Schooling

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Prospects for the Middle Senegal Valley economy

The Senegal River constitutes the border between Senegal and Mauritania. The Middle Valley is a semi-arid savanna sandwiched between arid zones of Ferlo and the Sahara desert. The harsh climate distinguishes two seasons. From June to August is the rainy season with frequent showers and river floods. The rest of the year is the dry season with temperature rising up to 50°C before the first rains. On the fringe of the desert, the soil is poor so the most fertile lands lie by the river banks thanks to alluvial deposits due to the river’s natural flood cycles. The three main economic activities have always been fishing, stock breeding and agriculture. Characterized by low rainfalls, the annual flooding of the river after the rainy season yields rich alluvial lands in the lowlands (waalo in Pulaar) when waters have receded. The relative prosperity of the zone originates from the practice of this double cropping: rain-fed crops from June to August, in the highlands (jeeri in Pulaar), and flood-recession crops from September to December, in the lowlands. Main traditional crops are millet and various vegetables (beans, squash, sweet potatoes…).
The Middle Senegal Valley had been a relative prosperous region thanks to its flood-recession cropping. The control over those fertile lands gave the economic power to the local aristocracy18. Previously involved in the Trans-Saharan trade, during colonization the river was the stage of gum and slave trade and thus benefited from its strategic location. Local chiefs would tax European traders in exchange for protection (the so-called ‘coutume’). In the 17th century, the trade intensifies on the river. The end of the slave trade in 1807 is followed by the end of the prosperity of the gum trade from 184019.
The colonizer’s policy turned then to the development of the Peanut Basin in the 19th century. The construction of the Dakar-Niamey railroad starting in 1906 finished to isolate the Senegal valley. The economic decline of the valley in this period is severed by the repeated drought of the 1970’s. Projects to develop the river agricultural potential initiated during colonization are based on irrigated rice-growing. Since the early 1970s, irrigation systems have been expanding to supplement rain-fed and flood recession crops, and to act as a safety net, buffering against food shortages in years of poor rainfall and flooding.
The introduction of water management facilities has reshaped the profits of these activities. In 1985, a dam was built in Diama 40km upstream from Saint-Louis to prevent salt from entering the delta and the lower valley, and in 1989, the hydropower dam of Manantali in Mali was built. The idea was that floods were unpredictable and sometimes devastating for villages on the river banks. The dam is planned to provide electricity to the 3 neighboring countries, i.e. Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. However the results are mitigated as the energy objective is not compatible with natural floods cycles: so far, floods are artificially maintained, but peasants fear it will not last. The dams have also been devastating for the fishing activity, along with the frequent droughts, reaching the point where most of the fish consumed in the valley come from the ocean, usually dried. Fishing has become a marginal secondary activity for fishermen who now engage in boat transportation which is a necessity when roads are flooded, as is usually the case for 3 to 4 months a year.
The projected expansion of irrigation schemes since operation of the dams has fallen far short of initial expectations for multiple reasons. These include high production costs, low yields per unit labor and capital, poor infrastructural development and scheme maintenance, and a lack of internal social cohesion and organization. There is extensive documentation of poor irrigation performance for technical, economic, and sociological reasons20. Schemes are presently operating at below 50% of projected capacity with cropping intensities at only 60% of capacity in the wet season and 20% in the dry season.

Some background on migration history

Both Soninke (located upstream) and Haalpulaar are famous for their migration history (“les gens du fleuve”). Though the research is more intense on the previous group, a quite extended literature can also be found on the Haalpulaaren.
The migration history is sometimes traced back to their mobility due to the nomadic or semi-nomadic stock-breeding activity of the Fulbe, or to the religious jihads, e.g., the most famous one led by El Haj Umar. While the cattle migrations are rather local and the religious migration very specific, they are not of great relevance when studying contemporaneous labor migration. In the 19th century, the valley economy was a barter economy: the local agricultural production was exchanged with imported goods from Europe. The rising demand for imported goods, the impossibility to get cash locally combined with the introduction of the tax having to be paid in cash from the end of the 19th century, imposed the migration of the peasants. Until the 1960’s, the Haalpulaaren are more centered on domestic migration, whereas the Soninke are more focused on international migration, e.g., in France, and other African countries. Ba (1996) distinguishes 5 migration periods or phases. The first one concerns the Trans-Saharan trade and the “tirailleurs” (African soldiers engaged in the French army during colonization), but is more intense in the neighboring Soninke group. The second phase begins in 1920 until the independence and concerns domestic migration to the Peanut Basin or the urban centers, mainly Dakar. By 1955, the Haalpulaaren constitute the second population in size after the Wolof. The third phase from the 1950’s until the 1970’s are centered towards African destinations and France. Whereas previously the migration was rather limited to young single men, the fourth phase sees the generalization of the migration to women and children. In France, it corresponds to the family reunification law in 1973. The hardening of the immigration laws in countries of destination, leads to a fifth phase beginning in the 1980’s and characterized by a diversification of destinations.

The survey

The survey was originally designed and constructed to study old-age support arrangements in a poor rural area. The recent heat wave of August 2003 was a good starting point to justify my investigations. The excess death toll among the elderly in France had been a scandal in Senegal as it revealed the poor living conditions of older people in France. The perception of old people’s homes is very negative in Senegal as it is in many developing countries. Talking about the lack of support from the family in France helped me starting the conversation on how older persons are taken care of in the villages.
Hence, the relevant unit of observation must be the intergenerational family. Traditionally Haalpulaaren societies are virilocal: after marriage the wife joins the husband’s family home. So, as in most developing countries, intergenerational co-residence is the norm, but once migration enters the picture, the family becomes geographically dispersed. Moreover, the society is patrilineal, so that I focused on the father-sons relations. Hence, the questionnaire is made of 3 parts: I collected data over the patriarch, his sons whether present or on migration, and all household members living with the patriarch.
The household representing the unit of consumption and income-pooling is the set of nuclear families of the father and his sons each composed of their spouses (presence of polygamy) and children or other dependents (nieces and nephews, grand-children…). In Pulaar it is clearly defined as the foyre meaning the ‘kitchen’. Indeed the meal sharing is the most visible form of income-pooling. The foyre is composed of several suudu which are the nuclear family (it could be translated as ‘room’): one for each spouse in case of polygamy. In the same compound (galle in Pulaar) there could be several foyre, although in the survey area it was rather rare.

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Choice of the field team

I had noticed that when investigating about such private and intimate matters as wealth and money transfers, the information would be more accurate if collected by someone who doesn’t directly know the respondent. At the same time I quickly realized that villagers are often fed up with surveys as the area has been the stage of frequent surveys from the government (the latest 2002 population census), NGOs and researchers from different disciplines and origins (mostly French and Americans). Thus a need for enumerators entrusted by village chiefs was required while enumerators who would not be known by the villagers but from the same cultural background. This last point is of particular importance as I witnessed interviews being held in Wolof in Pulaar speaking villages, and while the respondent understood well and could answer back in Wolof, the required trust was not present. My team of five enumerators bore the advantage of being from 2 different areas. Still they all had a long record of previous survey experiences, and were all Haalpulaaren. I met 3 of my enumerators during my first fieldtrip. They were working with the SAED in the downstream Podor department, and I noticed their eagerness and intelligence. I was only half surprised when I found out they were heads of team of enumerators during the population census on my second trip. Having witnessed how the job was done with several teams in different locations, I could truly appreciate their superior know-how. I met the 2 local enumerators prior to the survey and thanks to the local branch of the Statistics Department (DPS Matam). The team was a perfect fit to my needs as the local enumerators were in charge of getting us accepted in the village with the village chiefs whom they usually knew, while the 3 others would carry out most of the household surveys.

A non-profitable environment

Less than a century ago, the middle valley was relatively prosperous and therefore economically attractive. The keys to success were the navigability of the river, the cattle breeding and fishing activities along with the existence of two harvest seasons in October and in March. Rain-fed agriculture in the semi-arid highlands combined with the flood-fed culture by the river banks allowed such prosperity.
Several factors contributed to render any agricultural activity very risky and almost not profitable at all. Since World War II, the region has a long tradition of migration: repeated droughts in the seventies and eighties accelerated the phenomenon. To curb rural exodus, the French during colonization, and the state after independence, both invested in huge irrigation projects, and dams. Irrigation provides year-around crops and the dam is planned to provide electricity to the three neighboring countries, i.e. Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. However the results are mitigated as the power supply objective is not compatible with natural floods cycles. Moreover, the cost of oil and maintenance for motor-pumps, along with the cost of fertilizers and seeds make it profitable for rich farmers or efficient peasant cooperatives only. The zone is also very remote, and the national road linking Saint-Louis to Matam has never been seriously maintained so that the local production cannot easily reach the urban sectors. For the vast majority of the peasants of the valley it remains impossible to make a self-sustainable business out of it. As a consequence, nowadays, there are many schemes and water supplies that are badly-kept. In fact, conventional wisdom admits that it is rather difficult to make a decent living out of agricultural activities in the valley. In the meantime, migrants engage in conspicuous consumption either for religious celebrations or in housing, after just a few years abroad.

Limited social mobility in the village

Some historical background on the Haalpulaaren, who represent the majority of the population of the area, formerly known as Fuuta Tooro, can be found in Wane (1969). The Haalpulaaren are responsible for spreading Islam all over West-Africa, and are highly respected for that in the country and the sub-region. They are rigorous Muslim followers. This gives an additional argument against the “strategic bequest motive”, as Islam has very precise inheritance sharing rules: a son gets one share and a daughter gets half a share.
At the political level, if the administrative system is inherited from the French one, villages have remained in the hand of the traditional chiefs. Descending from religious or political figureheads of the Fuuta is the most sought-after social recognition. Another very important aspect of the 54 family prestige is determined by which social category the family belongs to. Traditional Haalpulaar society, like many Sahelian societies, (see Tamari, 1991) is based on a division into three main social categories:
To get a better idea about the complexity of this system, go to table A.1 in the appendix where more detailed explanations are given. In reality, the use of the term ‘caste’ is rather controversial, as it usually refers to the different artisan social sub-categories: les castés in French. In this paper, I refer to ‘the caste system’ as the whole stratified social organization. It is clear that all these social categories were not fixed, but that they evolved as some commoners have strategically been conferred a title of nobility as a reward for good services, or new warriors recruited among former slaves. It is important to keep in mind that these categories corresponded to a genuine need for a specific job allocation during the former era. The official abolition of slavery along with the emergence of the modern market economy render this classification outdated on practical grounds. Likewise, artisans do not necessarily work in the branch of their group’s specialization, though both the artisans and the descendants of slaves still suffer from discriminations nowadays. They mainly consist of marriage constraints, as well as denied access to land, and to political and religious leadership.27 Indeed at the political level, if the administrative system is absolutely similar to the French one, villages have remained in the hand of the traditional chiefs. It is really striking how relevant this classification remains in contemporary Haalpulaar culture.
In this traditional view, your birth determines your personality (cf. Wane 1969 who depicts each caste with a specific personal trait). It is said for instance that one should not trust an artisan because he may just be trying to seduce oneself in order to receive gifts. Not knowing the whole genealogy of one’s family is also a problem: it is the case that former slaves in particular have lost track of their ancestors… The role played by this caste system appears in everyday life, as there is a set of implicit rules that each group must follow, driven by ‘the sense of honor’ which is specific to the nobles. There are many ways for higher status individuals to distinguish.

Table of contents :

I. The Patriarchs of Matam
I.1. Introduction
I.2. Matam and the Haalpulaar Society
I.2.1. A hierarchical society
I.2.2. Prospects for the Middle Senegal Valley economy
I.2.3. Some background on migration history
I.3. The survey
I.3.1. Choice of the field team
I.3.2. Sample design: village and household selection
I.3.3. The questionnaire
I.4. Prestige and economic success
I.4.1. Profile of the patriarchs, their wives and sons
I.4.2. Multiple indicators of economic well-being
I.4.3. Wealth and status
I.5. Conclusion
II. Family Prestige as Old-Age Security
II.1. Introduction
II.2. Physical and cultural context
II.2.1. A non-profitable environment
II.2.2. Limited social mobility in the village
II.3. Theoretical Framework: ‘the Strategic Baraka Motive’
II.4. Data
II.4.1. The Survey
II.4.2. Descriptive Statistics
II.4.3. Empirical Strategy
II.5. Results
II.5.1. Probability of being on migration
II.5.2. Probability of remitting
II.6. Other Supportive Evidence
II.7. Conclusion
III. Impact of the Patriarch’s Migration Experience and Social Status on Children’s Schooling
III.1. Introduction
III.2. Context and data
III.2.1. The Haalpulaar society of Matam
III.2.2. Overall low educational level
III.3. Econometric analysis
III.3.1. Empirical strategy
III.3.2. Results
III.4. Conclusion


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