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Decentralization and Livelihoods in the Malian Sahel: Challenges of Legal Pluralism in Decentralized Natural Resource Management

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Benjamin, Charles
Conference: Survival of the Commons: Mounting Challenges and New Realities, the Eleventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Conf. Date: June 19-23, 2006
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1127
Sector: Social Organization
General & Multiple Resources
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
environmental policy
social capital
state and local governance
Abstract: "Drawing on recent experiences from central Mali, this paper argues that the effectiveness of democratic decentralization depends largely on how it embraces customary governance structures and how it reconciles the bottom-up organizing principles of rural livelihoods with the top-down process of natural resource policy reform under decentralization. The research takes a bottom-up approach to address the question of how local livelihood strategies and institutional capital shapes decentralization and to highlight the interplay of communities and local government. Focusing on this interplay allows us to discern what disjunctures exist between them, how they are reconciled, and how this process shapes incentives and opportunities for local resource managers. Where relations between communities and local government are hostile, decentralization at best perpetuates the 'sterile dualism' of impracticable statutory institutions and unauthorized customary institutions (Onibon et al. 2000). At worst, it compromises local livelihoods by undermining community-based institutions without offering effective alternatives or by introducing new avenues of competition for resources between local users and decentralized local government. Where these relations are positive, decentralization can create synergy between the state and local populations, improve the effectiveness of local NRM, and perhaps redress historical inequities. Policy analysts consider Mali to be a particularly successful example of West African decentralization (Clark 2000, Smith 2001), though it shares many challenges with other developing countries - institutionalizing the balance of power between central and local government, establishing legitimate and effective government, and reconciling customary and 'modern' legal traditions, including those related to natural resources. It is typical of other francophone African countries in having created multi-village, general- purpose local governments - rural communes - and de-legitimating customary governance institutions. This paper examines the experience of three Malian communities reconciling inconsistencies between local management systems and decentralized natural resource policy. The communities have taken different approaches to organizing community-based natural resource management under decentralization: village autonomy, local government, and negotiated local agreements. Their experiences illustrate some of the tensions that result from contradictions in the organizing logics of community, local, and national approaches to natural resource management. They suggest that flexible approaches to reconciling these differences can result in innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems. They present the possibility of incrementally developing effective governance structures and organizational hybrids that are based in the knowledge, incentives, and capabilities of communities and draw upon the relative strengths of diverse local stakeholders."

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