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Social Science Developing Countries

Who Are You and Why Are You Here?

Tales of International Development

by (author) Jacques Claessens

translated by Nigel Spencer

Between the Lines
Initial publish date
Jun 2018
Developing Countries, African, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2018
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Dec 2022
    List Price
    $26.99 USD

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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.

About the authors

Jacques Claessens was born in Belgium and traveled and worked across Africa for over thirty years. Between 1980 and 2010 he assessed the impact of international development projects in Burkina Faso on behalf the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and eventually settled in Canada.

Jacques Claessens' profile page

Nigel Spencer's work includes acting, directing, teaching, educational research and training, journalism, subtitling and co-scripting films, as well as script-doctoring.

He taught the first bilingual graduate course on Comparative Canadian Dramaturgy (l'Université de Sherbrooke), and a performance-based course on Shakespeare at the State University of New York (Plattsburgh).

He has published six books of translated work by Marie-Claire Blais, including Thunder and Light, Augustino and the Choir of Destruction, and Mai at the Predators' Ball, which earned him three Governor General's Literary Awards for Translation.

His theatre translations include three plays by Evelyne de la Chenelière, one of which, September, will be produced by Canadian Stage in Toronto in 2020.

Nigel Spencer's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“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

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