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Law and Power in Decentralised Natural Resource Management: A Case Study from the Inner Niger Delta, Mali

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Cotula, Lorenzo
Conference: Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons
Location: Cheltenham, England
Conf. Date: July 14-18, 2008
Date: 2008
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/386
Sector: Social Organization
General & Multiple Resources
Region: Africa
Subject(s): decentralization--case studies
resource management--case studies
community participation
local governance and politics
natural resources
Abstract: "In several African countries, recent decentralisation processes have entailed a transfer of natural resource management responsibilities from central to local government bodies. Decentralisation aims to give local resource users greater control over the natural resources on which they depend. But implementation is riddled with difficulties - for instance, with regard to local capacity, resources and accountability. In addition, local governments must come to terms with pre-existing systems for the management of natural resources, based on local ('customary' but continuously evolving) tenure systems. The complex and diverse relationships established between local governments and customary systems may have significant implications for the 'success' of decentralisation processes. "Drawing on a case study from the Inner Niger Delta (Mali) and using a socio-legal approach, this article explores the challenges of implementing decentralisation in contexts characterised by legal pluralism, by long-term historical trajectories of socioeconomic change, by increasingly conflictual relations between local actors, and by shifting balances of power. It finds that customary systems in the delta have been profoundly affected by a century of change in the ecological, socio-economic and politico-institutional context. The authority and legitimacy of many chiefs ('jowro') and of customary institutions to hold them accountable ('suudu baaba') have been eroded, resource access relations have become monetarised, natural resource disputes have increased, and state legislation and greater use of courts have fostered the emergence of hybrids of both customary and statutory norms. In this context, the establishment of local governments endowed with still unclear natural resource management responsibilities has added complexity to this situation, resulting in relations between chiefs and local governments that range from conflict to cooperation through to capture. The diverse and evolving balance of power between central and local government, jowro, suudu baaba, and different groups of natural resource users shape the development and outcomes of these relations."

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