Low technology is a way of life in Burundi. Not that people are necessarily seeking low technology as a way of life – but because this is how most things get done in the poorest country in the world.
In some ways, this has an equalizing effect. Low or no technology means that whether rich or poor, the same or nearly the same technologies are used.
Take construction. Yesterday the floor of a second story was constructed on a small building at the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika, which required making, transporting and laying of the cement. Here is how it was done:
- Cement is mixed by hand. The only cement mixer I’ve seen in Burundi was at the American Embassy
- After being mixed, cement is placed in buckets that are passed by hand to a line of workers
- The buckets are then passed around the corner of the building…
- About 25 workers and an equal number of buckets are in operation all of the time, while the head of the crew sings a song in time with the bucket-passing, and the refrain is sung by the workers
- An empty bucket is thrown down, as full ones are made ready to go up the ladder
- The finished product; it took about 5 hours to make and move all of the cement
This may not be very efficient by industrialized standards – but look at all of the jobs that were created! Plus, it is a very social activity. Singing; joking; then everyone goes off to eat. A barn-raising, African-style.
I do not mean to romanticize this manner of building, but to point out that in many areas of the world technology – the way it is embedded in the social fabric and related carbon footprint – can be quite different from what is found in industrialized areas.
And that is one reason why simple, ‘off-the-shelf’ technology transfer very often does not work.