Village properties, state negotiations: Decentralization and territorialization of Senegal's forests
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In the last two decades, legal reforms and development projects in Senegal have purported to transfer authority over thousands of hectares of forests, pastures, and fisheries from state agencies to local elected councils, customary chiefs, and user committees. Yet in addition to transferring official powers, these efforts have introduced new spatial categories and legal techniques such as local conventions and village protected sites. These tools alter the terrain on which state agencies, politicians, commercial interests, and customary leaders – not to mention the numerous groups whose livelihoods depend on these resources – seek to access and control natural resources. By tracing the evolution of one of Senegal’s first community forestry initiatives over a 17-year history, this article argues that decentralization has fixed forests in place and privatized common-property, while also disrupting the presumption of separate domains of “state” and “community”. Rather than creating territories governed by communities, the creation of village forests drew together customary authorities, local politicians, and forestry technicians in relations of mutual dependence and informal collaboration. One effect of decentralization has been the incorporation of new resources and property relations into networks of informalized and privatized state power.