Decentralisation, participation and accountability in Sahelian forestry: Legal instruments of political-administrative control

Jesse C. Ribot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colonial relations of political administration are being reproduced in the current era of participation and decentralisation. In natural resource management, participation and decentralisation are promoted on the basis that they can increase equity, yield 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 those 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 downwardly accountable to local populations. Many of the new laws being passed in the name of participation and decentralisation administer rather than enfranchise. The article examines the 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 centralised 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 decentralisation and participatory efforts - this article suggests that representation through local government can be the basis of general and enduring participation by society in public affairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-64
Number of pages43
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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