Decentralization, Participation and Accountability in Sahelian Forestry: Legal Instruments of Political-Administrative Control

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International African Institute
"Colonial relations of rural political administration are being reproduced in the current era of participation and decentralization. In natural resource management, participation and decentralization are promoted on the basis that they can increase rural equity, provide greater efficiency, benefit the environment, and contribute to rural development. Reaping these benefits is predicated on 1) the devolution of some real powers over natural resources to local populations, and 2) the existence of locally accountable authorities to whom these powers can be devolved. However, a limited set of highly circumscribed powers are being devolved to locally accountable authorities, and most local authorities to whom powers are being devolved are systematically structured to be upwardly accountable to the central state, rather than being downwardly accountable to local populations. Many of the new laws being written in the name of participation and decentralization administer rather than enfranchise. The paper examines historical legal underpinnings of the powers and accountability of state-backed rural authorities (chiefs and rural councils); the authorities through which current natural resource management projects in Burkina Faso and in Mali represent local populations; and the decisions being devolved to local bodies in new natural resource management efforts. Without reform local interventions risk reproducing the inequities of their centralized political-administrative context. Rather than pitting the State against society by depicting the State as a negative force and society and non-state institutions as positive--as is done in many decentralization and participatory efforts--this article suggests that representation through local government can be the basis for generalized and enduring participation of society in public affairs."
decentralization, forestry, political economy, natural resources, resource management, participatory management, justice, environment, equity