Commons and legal reform in Mauritania
Paper coauthored by Karl P. Kirsch-Jung (GTZ, Mauritania) and Lars T. Soeftestad (Supras), presented at the conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons (IASC), June 2006, Bali, Indonesia. The paper, titled “Regulating the commons in Mauritania: Local agreements as a tool for sustainable natural resource management,” presented – for the first time in English – an approach designed and implemented by GTZ in Mauritania and other countries in West Africa, over the last several years.
The present situation in Mauritania with regard to management of natural resources is complex. There is tribal law, colonial French law (Code Napoleon) and modern state law, layered on top of each other as it were. These legal codes, in and off themselves, are not necessarily suited to tackle the situation of local natural resource management (NRM) today. In connection with local-level management of the commons, specifically land, relating to and using these different and often contradictory legal codes represents a somewhat bewildering picture. As a result, conflicts between specific rules in these codes at times arise.
In this situation, efforts to achieve sustainable land management have to work within and negotiate the delicate balance between these codes. At the same time, these efforts have to relate to and work with relevant stakeholders, specifically local resource users and public sector and political structures at the national level. One such approach is to establish “local agreements” (LAs), here understood as constituting a set of regulations drawn up in a participatory manner by as many stakeholders as possible, in order to promote equitable and sustainable NRM. The LA aims to bring together divergent interests and overcome the danger of one stakeholder's interest dominating to the exclusion of others, in particular, vulnerable groups such as transhumant pastoralists.
The paper presents ongoing work on establishing LAs in the south and southeast of Mauritania by GTZ and World Bank. Following an overview of the legal situation and its evolution, the ongoing work is presented, including experiences and outcomes. The analysis discusses related approaches and efforts elsewhere in Sahel, raises some problematic questions on how to increase the effectiveness of LAs, and concludes with lessons for future applications of this approach for regulating commons and achieving sustainable land management.