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The Role of User Committees for the Devolution Process in Namaqualand, South Africa: Findings and Open Questions from the Fieldwork in Namaqualand, South Africa

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Vollan, Bjørn
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/10535/1487
Sector: Social Organization
General & Multiple Resources
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
user groups
common pool resources
collective action
game theory
prisoner's dilemma
community participation
Abstract: "This paper is based on empirical investigations looking at the emergence of collective action and institutional change in villages of the Namaqualand, South Africa within the scope of the BIOTA Southern Africa project. Based on quantitative data analysis it outlines the importance of decision-making and participation in the process of devolution of responsibilities over common-pool resources to local communities. It discusses optimal design principles for user committees being very relevant for biodiversity preservation at the local level. "In a common-pool resource system decision making is embedded in community structures, cultural backgrounds and is dependent on political realities. Critical factors of a robust socialecological system are those that permit collective activities which are needed to sustain the commonly owned pasture. For Namaqualand it had been identified that the structure of interactions between community and local infrastructure provider is the critical factor that allows collective action and thus efficient community governance including community-based conservation activities. The local infrastructure providers interact with the villagers through user committees whose members have to inform and mobilize the community and devise and enforce rules that govern the respective task. First empirical investigations revealed that external influence coming from devolution and decentralisation might negatively affect village cohesion, co- operative norms and thus collective action especially 1.) without a longer history of co-operation or collective action (section 3) 2.) under high unemployment, and 3.) if many committees are running in the community and do not generate income for the people (both section 4). The latter point indicates that unsuccessful political and social interactions on the commons run the risk of winding up in 'social traps' where people getting more and more selfish (frequency-dependent pay-offs in a prisoner's dilemma game). Additionally, political, economic and cultural changes after the apartheid era lead to an adjustment of the underlying motives for participation and decision-making in committees. In the new situation in particular richer individuals abstain from committees and conflicts remain unresolved. This in turn negatively affects communities and committees ability and legitimacy to self-organize voluntarily or on demand to government policies. "The study found that if the possibility of making good collective decisions at the local level depends on a sufficient number of villagers having and applying norms and beliefs that support the respective institution and an external environment that builds on existing norms with interactive participation, then successful community-based development is not only a question of efficiency and cost-benefit calculations but one of consistent policy measures of devolution, decentralisation and poverty reduction in order to foster village cohesion, social capital and collective decision-making. The paper ends with recommendations for local governance institutions that are less likely to end up in conflicts."

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