Shaping Rules and Practice for More Justice. Local Conventions and Local Resistance in Eastern Senegal


Participatory programs and the transfer of the means of regulation to local populations can move local people to adopt government or development project agendas. They do not always succeed. When externally driven agendas fail to match local norms and practices, they are resisted and re-worked to accommodate local views, needs, and aspirations. In this interaction both the external agenda and local norms are contested and reconstituted in ways that follow the contours of the power asymmetries among local actors and external resource users, government agents and project managers. In the Tambacounda Region of Senegal, forest-dwelling villagers constantly negotiate forest use with more powerful urban-based merchants and transhumant herders. Government and international development programs have introduced ‘local conventions,’ written agreements among resource users, to reduce conflict over resource-use decisions. However, despite elaboration through participatory processes these conventions impose rules of management and use that contradict local environmental subjectivities; consequently, local people resist and rework introduced rules, and thus reconstitute them as, at least partly, their own.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Local conventions are institutions, written “rules of the game” that can help improve natural resource management. The ability to craft institutions to safeguard commons is not exclusive to the state as Hardin believed (1968); local people can and often do so themselves (McCabe and Terrence 1989; Ostrom 1990; Berkes 2009; Haller 2010). They do not require the state or external interventions to craft the institutions to maintain their environment.

  2. 2.

    A Rural Community is the lowest level of local government. It regroups many villages and includes approximately 20,000 inhabitants. After June 2014 local elections, Rural Communities became (rural) Communes. Each Rural Community has an elected Rural Council (Municipal Council) and President (now Mayor).

  3. 3.

    With the promulgation of Law 2013–10 in December 2013, Regions are no longer political decentralization entities and Rural Communities have become (rural) Communes. There are now two levels of political decentralization: Communes (urban and rural) and the departments.

  4. 4.

    Tessito refers to engagement in voluntary work for collective interests.

  5. 5.

    Wulanafaa and wulodemalaa mean, respectively, ‘rich or valuable forests’ and ‘watching out or protecting the forests.’

  6. 6.

    This handbook represents the insights Wula Nafaa has learned from its activities, not what they have actually done.

  7. 7.

    Laalo is the local name for the solidified sap of the Sterculia setigera tree. In Senegal, it is also referred to as gomme mbepp.


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Correspondence to Papa Faye.

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The data in this article derive from a doctoral research by Papa Faye funded by the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) of Bern at the University of Bern in Switzerland. The PhD has been fulfilled at the Institute of Social Anthropology under the guidance of Prof. Tobias Haller and Prof Jesse Ribot. The first author also benefited from additional support through the Responsive Forest Governance Initiative (RFGI), a program jointly implemented by the Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research in Africa (CODESRIA), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUNC).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Papa Faye is an Open Society Foundations Research Fellow (June 2017-May 2018).

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Faye, P., Haller, T. & Ribot, J. Shaping Rules and Practice for More Justice. Local Conventions and Local Resistance in Eastern Senegal. Hum Ecol 46, 15–25 (2018).

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  • Forestry
  • Decentralization
  • Local resistance
  • Sustainable resource use
  • Local regulation
  • Senegal