(2006) JLP 52: 1-29
Lorenzo Cotula and Salmana Cissé
It is widely recognized that natural resource policies and laws must build on local concepts and practice, rather than importing one-size-fits-all models. This raises the need to ascertain what is happening to local resource tenure systems in rural Africa. In recent decades, important changes in economies and societies have taken place, including demographic growth, urbanisation, monetarisation of the economy, livelihood diversification, greater integration in the global economy, and cultural change – with major implications for local (‘customary’ but continuously reinterpreted and adapted) tenure systems. This paper explores change in ‘customary’ systems for managing grazing and agricultural lands in the Inner Niger Delta, Mali. It finds that customary rules and institutions 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 have been eroded, resource access relations have become monetarised, and natural resource disputes have increased in both quantity and intensity. In this context, state legislation and greater use of courts have fostered the emergence of hybrids of both customary and statutory norms. The establishment of the rural communes endowed with (still unclear) natural resource management responsibilities has added complexity to the situation. A solid understanding of these issues and a clear vision as to how to tackle them are key to developing appropriate policies on land and resource tenure.