Management of natural resources in the Sahel: habits and customs at the service of conflict resolution – Burkina Faso

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Introduction

Throughout the Sahelian strip, conflicts over access to natural resources between nomadic and sedentary communities continue to multiply on the transhumance routes. If the scarcity of natural resources due to demographic pressure, climatic instability and armed conflicts is the main cause, these micro-conflicts fuel the emergence of inter-community conflicts, which in turn fuel political conflicts.
Faced with the risk of growing militarization of these agro-pastoral conflicts, since 2015, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has been deploying a mediation mechanism between nomadic and sedentary communities for the benefit of Sahelian states to prevent and peacefully manage disputes over the sharing of resources. natural resources and transhumance. In March 2022, there were 2,072 agropastoral mediators – gradually trained in conflict resolution – in the network across 133 border communes in Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso,
Niger and Chad.
This approach has demonstrated its importance since this network of mediators has autonomously resolved 1,100 micro-conflicts over access to natural resources and transhumance, while more than 8,000 head of stolen or lost cattle have been returned to their owners. In addition, community mediators are at the heart of mediating local agreements to sustainably improve the mechanisms for managing contentious natural resources. The project thus contributes to stabilization efforts in the Sahel by re-establishing the traditional mechanisms of permanent mediation between communities. It is always the communities that amicably resolve disputes related to the exploitation of common resources. They have the power to decide in assembly the corridors of passage and to punish cattle thefts. Due to the deterioration of the social fabric, in particular due to the emergence of new elites resulting from armed conflicts, this role has been weakened.
However, community leaders have the expertise and legitimacy to resolve community conflicts through negotiation.
HD has thus helped communities to identify ongoing conflicts over access to natural resources and transhumance, but also to identify traditional, customary and emerging leaders who, once brought together in a network, can resolve these conflicts through mediation. On the one hand, this fieldwork has demonstrated that habits and customs are still strongly rooted in the daily life of each community, despite the fact that knowledge of habits and customs has been altered by time and changing realities. social. The resulting misunderstandings give rise to benign quarrels which can, in situations of political and security tensions, turn into conflicts, sometimes armed. On the other hand, these efforts have allowed HD to collect a wealth of valuable information on these habits and customs lived and experienced by the border communities of the Mauritanian intervention in Chad. This publication aims to highlight the fact that local conventions can prevent conflicts in cases where customs and practices are not well known or understood.
Through this publication, HD intends to share this knowledge of habits and customs for the benefit of as many people as possible. This document is primarily intended for the communities themselves because if endogenous mediation proves to be very effective, it is a question of contributing to the prevention of conflicts through a better knowledge of the habits and customs of the different Sahelian communities. . It is also intended for any actor, partner or donor wishing to take into account the realities of local communities in the formulation and implementation of cooperation projects.
The information contained in this guide was collected directly from the communities and is limited to the areas of intervention of the agro-pastoral mediation program piloted by HD – mainly cross-border municipalities far from urban centers – and is therefore not exhaustive.