Academic journal article Africa

Community, Forestry and Conditionality in the Gambia

Academic journal article Africa

Community, Forestry and Conditionality in the Gambia

Article excerpt

The environmentalism of the late 1980s and early 1990s was distinguished by massive `global' undertakings such as the Rio Earth Summit, the proliferation of `global change' studies in the academy, and development interventions carried out under the aegis of the Global Environment Facility (Sachs, 1993). These multi-faceted efforts, which absorbed the energies of agencies all along the local to global continuum, involved asserting global primacy in the construction and prioritisation of specific environmental problems, and invoking particular rationalities for environmental management (WCED, 1987; Groombridge, 1992; McNeely et al., 1990; World Bank, 1995, 1996). In this regard, the global scale was wholly `produced' (Smith, 1990), as multiple practices of discursive and direct material incursion combined to eclipse other-scale spaces and places, and subsume the needs and desires of people in particular localities to `global' imperatives (cf. Escobar, 1995).

More recently, environmentalists have been engaged in a countervailing effort to produce a more local scale. While global change scenarios still hold tremendous sway, state governments and donors are now intensely engaged in designing environmental programmes to be implemented `at the community level'. This striking shift in emphasis demands explanation. In part, the resurgence of the community scale as a central organising principle guiding contemporary environmental initiatives (Brosius et al., 1998; McNeely, 1995; Western et al., 1994) derives from a backlash of sorts by local polities that have been directly disenfranchised through different types of environmental intervention. In Africa repeated efforts to impose land, water, forest, and wildlife management practices on different groups dating back to the colonial period (Beinart, 1984; Peters, 1987; Anderson and Grove, 1987; Neumann, 1992, 1995; Bonner, 1993; Bassett, 1993; Leach, 1994; Hodgson, 1995; Fairhead and Leach, 1996) have generated a legacy of `suspicion and mistrust' toward environmental programmes (BSP, 1993: xiv). Local groups, wielding the threat of sabotage and asserting longstanding claims to property, resources and place-based identities, have responded to environmental initiatives with demands for greater re, cognition of their needs. Sympathetic `liberation ecologists'(1) positioned in NGO and state agencies have backed these claims for a more equitable distribution of resources and power by promoting more extensive community involvement and participation. To save face, and blunt criticism, donors such as the World Bank and some of the major environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have followed suit, embracing `the community' as a basic unit of environmental planning and project implementation. (See IIED, 1994, for a useful summary of the literature pertaining to these developments.)

While local groups and their political allies in the environmental movement have forced the state and donors to recognise the legitimacy of local claims, the motivation behind the apparent decentralisation of responsibility and authority over natural resources has not always been so populist in character. Often the move to assert the communal scale has been motivated by the donors' own economic and political interests. Bioprospectors and rent-seeking governments, for example, promote community resource management as a means of gaining access to critical environmental knowledge held by indigenous groups, thereby opening up new frontiers for commercial exploitation of the environment (Laird et al., forthcoming; Cunningham, forthcoming). Similarly, geopolitical activists emphasise `the community' as a means of fostering the development of civil society and consolidating gains on the post-Cold War African political landscape (Watts, 1995).

This article pursues a political-economic analysis of community resource management further by setting such policies against the backdrop of the structural adjustment programmes that have swept the Africa region over the past decade. …

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