Governing Local Commons: What Can be Learned from the Failures of Lake Ahemes Institutions in Benin?

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"At different parts of the world, local commons are moving into more and more complex situations due to changing ecological, socioeconomic and cultural conditions of their exploitation. Therefore, successful institutions for governing them have emerged as a crucial issue of sustainability. Institution is defined as rules, eligibility criteria, decision-making arrangements, punishment structures, and action assignments. Sustainable commons are strongly related to the capacity of the stakeholders to design and share institutions that are enforced and continuously adapted in face of evolving conditions. The paper focuses on the specific case of the evolution of Lake Ahemes institutions: since the pre-colonial times (before 1894), through colonial (1894-1960) and after independence (1960-1990) periods, and to the recent democratization era (after 1990) in Benin. Lake Aheme is located in the southern area of Benin. With a length of 24 km, the lake's surface is 78 square km during low level of water and 100 square km at the periods of inundation of its floodplains. Forty villages are surrounding the lake. The Pedah (fishers) and the Ayizo (fisher-farmers) are the dominant ethnic groups around the lake, among many smaller other ethnic groups. Lake Aheme is a complex local common, which is continuously changing under the influence of several factors (ecological, socioeconomic, technological, cultural, and political) that have influenced its institutions since colonial times. Despite repetitive failures of Lake Aheme's institutions, this case study helps gain a deep understanding into the relevance of institutions for governing local commons such as Lake Aheme. The paper analyzes the evolution of the institutions of Lake Aheme's institutions in relation to factors that influence the failures, from an historical perspective. Can successful institutions be designed to regulate use and access to local commons? In addition, beyond the insights gained into the ongoing struggles, conflicts, negotiation, mediation and adaptations of stakeholders, major learning points are identified to discuss the extent to which institutions can be better designed for governing local commons in the future."



IASC, common pool resources, water resources, institutional design, lakes, traditional resource management, village organization, sustainability