, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 699-715

“We are Zambians—Don’t Tell Us How to Fish!” Institutional Change, Power Relations and Conflicts in the Kafue Flats Fisheries in Zambia

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Many scholars claim that open access due to the effective absence of state control is the major reason for the overuse of common-pool resources such as fisheries. Based on data from the Kafue Flats fisheries in Zambia, we argue that the main problem in open-access situations is the paradox of a state that is simultaneously absent and present: present in actions that dismantle local fishery institutions but absent when it comes to the ability to enforce the laws that might protect the resources. Thus, the state is present in the voice of immigrants from other parts of the country who use their Zambian citizenship to legitimize free access to the fisheries. But it is absent when the Department of Fisheries is not able to enforce its own formal rules or control these immigrants’ activities. Local groups are unable to act collectively to reinstall new institutions due to the absence of formal law enforcement. This paper analyses this historic process of institutional change within the theoretical framework of New Institutionalism. We test the hypothesis that the main reason for the lack of local collective action in the Kafue Flats is ideology (the notion of citizenship) strengthening the bargaining power of external actors, who profit most from open access constellations.