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Making Pizza In Africa To Break Endless Cycles Of Foreign Aid

Italians teach locals in Burkina Faso both the recipe for pizza, and the formula for a successful small business. Is this how foreign aid is transformed into sustainable development?

Article illustrative image Partner logo Signs for a pizzeria, a few miles from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou

FADA N’GOURMA - The aroma of pizza mingles with the smell of wood as we wait in line to buy a slice of "Margherita" tomato-and-mozzarella in Fada N’Gourma, a city of 50,000 in the east of Burkina Faso, near the borders with Togo and Niger.

“This is the third pizzeria-bakery that we’ve opened in Burkina Faso,” says Claudio Vanni, from the Italian “Heart Melts” foundation. “They’re co-ops, and we provide technical resources and training, but otherwise is handled entirely by local workers. It's a success, both from an economical point of view and for the solidarity values that it brings.”

Burkina Faso is a little country of 15 million inhabitants, which regularly ranks last on the UN Human Poverty Index, and where 62 different ethnicities and three religions – Animist, Muslim and Catholic – are all recognized by a state that prides itself on its religious freedom. Burkina’s President, Blaise Compaoré, has been leading the country for 26 years.

In every little village in this country, there are signs sprouting up that indicate the presence of international agencies that develop agriculture, wells, schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, in the north of Burkina Faso, in the Oudalan region that borders with Mali, the EU and UN have set up refugee camps to accommodate the 100,000 who have fled the Malian conflict. 

Jobs and social growth

“Right now, Burkina Faso seems to be at the center of global strategic interests. And because of this, it’s necessary to do everything to intensify cooperation projects. If this country explodes with ethnic and religious hatred like in Mali, Nigeria, Uganda and the region around Africa’s horn, all of Western Africa will be ablaze,” says Monsignor Andrea Cristiani, founder of the Shalom Movement, which in Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital, has just organized “L’Africa sviluppa l’Africa” (“Africa Developing Africa”), its first pan-African conference bringing together delegations from 17 nations.

Cristiani wanted to give this title to the conference to end the logic of assistance, or charity. "All over our continent there are resources, intelligence, and the will to escape from misery and to remain at peace," he said, noting that for the first time well-off African families are being asked to adopt African babies from their own regions. 

“Jobs and social growth – our project is all about the founding principles of the cooperative movement,” says Claudio Vanni. Volunteers will remain in Fada N’Gourma for the long term, to follow the arrival and the installations of the machinery, as well as to train the five Burkina youths who will manage the new pizzeria. “We have just opened and we’ve already broken even. There is every reason for this initiative to be as successful as our two previous pizzerias, which make profits of 20,000 euros – reinvested in other charity projects."

In addition to the pizzeria, "Heart Melts" has built a carpentry school that will be supported by sales revenue; in Burkina Faso there is an old tradition of cabinet making and wood is still used today in the building trade.

At the “Africa Developing Africa” conference, the strongest words were from Joseph, a 30-year-old lawyer, representing the Shalom Movement in Angola: “I don’t want to hear anything else about the misery of Africa," he said. "Africa has everything it needs to be a rich continent. Poverty is caused by men.”

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