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Prepared by
Garry Thomas, Jon Anderson, Diji Chandrasekharan, Yolanda Kakabadse and Violet Matiru

This paper has been prepared for the E-Conference "Addressing Natural Resource Conflicts through Community Forestry," Forests, Trees and People Programme, Forestry Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, January-April 1996.


1. Introduction

2. Case Studies

2.1 Logging and Conflicts in the Rain Forests of Cameroon

2.2 Re-writing Forestry Law in Bolivia

2.3 Creating Village Forest Reserves in Tanzania

3. Provisional Hypotheses

4. Discussion Questions

5. Endnotes


When power is equally distributed, competing parties can often sit down and negotiate and resolve conflicts before they erupt into disputes. However in the community forestry ontext the number and diversity of actors involved can be quite large and they often differ ignificantly in their economic, social and political power. Under unequal conditions eaker partners are sometimes forced to take extreme actions, sometimes violent, in an ttempt to address power imbalance. This paper considers a variety of techniques and conditions that promote equitable dialogue and successful conflict management.

The paper presents three case studies of conflicts in forestry. The cases illustrate a continuum of situations, ranging from one that which remains highly conflictual, to one where a process has been initiated that has helped catalyse progress (even if the final goal has not yet been achieved), to one where forestry conflict seems to have been successfully managed and has resulted in an improved situation and relationship for the actors and the resource. These cases help illuminate certain questions relating to power relationships and critical elements for successful conflict management. What is the link between power relations and conflict management? How do power differences (economic, social and political) impact on conflict management and dispute resolution strategies? How can powerful groups be brought to the conflict management table? How can dialogue between the different actors be encouraged based upon long term interests and more equitable principles? What institutional and other mechanisms are needed to promote a more equitable dialogue?

Finally, the paper attempts to draw some provisional hypotheses about promoting equitable dialogue and poses some questions for discussion.


2.1 Case Study One: Logging and Conflicts in the Rain Forests of Cameroon 1/

In Cameroon, in 1993, conflicts between communities and transnational logging companies erupted in incidences of kidnapping of expatriate logging company personnel, blockading of logging roads by villagers and the arrest and imprisonment of protesting villagers. These conflicts are rooted in power disparities and inequity, highlighting how the economic weakness of a government can have additional negative effects on rural poor.

Forests are an important resource for Cameroon, covering approximately 40% of the total land area and making Cameroon currently the seventh largest tropical timber exporter in the world. The timber industry is largely dominated by expatriate companies, mostly from Europe, who control approximately 80% of the area under harvest. According to some observers, the present rate and mode of forest exploitation is not sustainable.

Local forest dwelling communities have until recently lived a subsistence lifestyle largely dependent on wildlife for bushmeat (which provides an estimated 70% of all animal protein in the diet of people living in the forest zone). Alongside this, many tree and plant species are of value for local food production, medicinal use and other local needs. This is especially the case with the Moabi tree (Baillonella toxisperma), where the fruits are eaten, the bark is used for medicinal purposes and cooking oil is extracted from the seeds for sale and domestic use. Timber from the Moabi tree is particularly valued on the European furniture market, and harvesting for this purpose has caused the extinction of Moabi in parts of Cameroon.

Commercial logging in virgin forests has opened up many areas to rapid and severe degradation. The local population, although initially enthusiastic about the possibility for economic development from logging, now often feel like UHvictims of an external force.DH This type of logging has introduced a cash economy into the local setting, equiring communities to adapt to new market forces and pressures.

The foreign logging companies are usually autonomous and self-sufficient, with little or no dependence on local markets, trade and people. They are also highly vertically integrated (i.e. each company logs, processes and markets its timber) and employ few local people, often preferring, for a variety of reasons, to hire people from other areas rather than hiring people from the nearby villages. As a result of logging, migrant farmers have moved into degraded forest areas, bushmeat is becoming more scarce and a number of tree species of economic value and use to the forest communities, in addition to the Moabi tree, are becoming rare. Conflicts between logging companies and the local communities are resulting as the companies continue to derive benefits from the forest areas while providing limited, if any, benefits to the local forest dependent communities.

At the national level the increasing rates of forest exploitation help meet the need to collect foreign revenue and compensate for decreasing world market prices for Cameroon's other major exports, oil, coffee and cocoa. Given the importance of commercial logging, the government is anxious to control protest and unrest which might hinder the export of timber. The communities most affected by commercial logging, however, seem to have few alternatives for making a living and very limited leverage with either the logging companies or the government.

In the context of the case study, the main actors that are indirectly and directly related to this conflict include, the local communities, large foreign logging companies, the Government of Cameroon and multilateral and donor institutions.

Causes Of Power Disparities

Power plays a major role in determining the visibility of a conflict, conflict management, the process for resolving the conflict, and the outcome of the conflict. More often than not, power disparity characterises the parties in conflict. For this case study, the most visible power disparities are presented below.

(1) Between Foreign Logging Companies and Local Communities

The integration of Cameroon DRs forests into the national and international economy has fundamentally shifted control over the forests. Logging licences and fees are distributed and paid for in the capital city Yaounde, and local control has thus been weakened. The existing laws and policies focus on the contractual arrangement between the state and commercial logging companies, leaving little occasion to take into consideration local perceptions and needs, norms and uses of non-timber forest products such as traditional medicines and bushmeat.

In the past, the timber companies could only start logging after negotiations and agreement with the local population and administration. However, in the beginning of the 1980s, this approach was supplanted by a tax policy wherein the national administration levies "local development taxes" on the companies. These funds theoretically are returned to the communities and provide investment for local infrastructure. However local populations feel that this investment is lagging, not commensurate with the resources exploited and, moreover, they themselves no longer have a meaningful role in the negotiations of timber concessions. Companies are "absolved" of local social and economic responsibility and responsiveness, as long as they pay their taxes, effectively de-linking them from the local situation.

It is the impression of the authors of the case study that there is no legal obligation for the companies to meet the needs and interests of the local people. Some of the logging companies have made commitments to the local communities, for example, offering to construct schools or medical dispensaries. However, if the companies break these promises, the local people have no formal or legally recognised mechanism for recourse. This was clearly seen in the case of the village of Atsjek. An informal agreement was made between the logging company and the villagers, where the company promised to improve roads, construct a village school and a medical post, and agreed to provide the villagers with timber waste. When the company broke this agreement, the villagers of Atsjek blockaded the transport of this company's timber. Police troops were then sent in to arrest the villagers involved.

It would appear that there is no legal requirement for the logging companies to tend to the sites they work after timber harvest. The companies are not required to protect the forest from agricultural encroachment, for example, nor assure regeneration of the forest either artificially (planting seedlings) or naturally. Thus the companies are oriented towards short-term economic gain and do not have incentives for a long-term interest in the resource; frequently they engage in selective felling and later move onto new concession areas.

Large foreign companies, which are well-organised and networked, tend to dominate the structure and dynamics of timber business in Cameroon with smaller foreign companies and Cameroonian companies selling to them. The smaller companies tend to lack the money and capacity to access an international market on their own and to withstand market fluctuations.

(2) Between the Government of Cameroon and Local Communities

National policies, oriented towards generating revenue through forest exploitation, invariably clash with local development needs, resulting in conflict between the logging companies and local communities. The existing legal and political framework and the level of centralisation often leads the government to protect commercial interests. The example of the village of Atsjek, where villagers halted the transport of timber by logging companies, the government felt compelled to have them arrested and imprisoned, was just one case of such conflict between local communities and the government.

Additionally, since government officials frequently face delays or non-payment of their salaries and they often look for alternative ways of making a living, such as through the forest tax and from concession licences. This usually means working more closely with the companies and the central government than with the villagers. Short term personal considerations of politicians and officials often prevail over the interests of local communities and sustainable forest management practices.

(3) Between Foreign Logging Companies and the Government of Cameroon

The Cameroon government's presently relatively weak economic position, combined with a slump in world prices for its main exports, makes timber harvesting one of the main strategies of raising revenue. There is a disincentive for longer term, less exploitive use of forest resources, since this might negatively effect short term cash flow. Revenue might be increased by raising taxes and royalties and better enforcing policies, however, UHpoliticians do not like to increase forest fees, because it would affect their popularity [with the logging companies] and because it would make concession allocation less of a favour.DH (Verhagen and Enthoven 1993: 4) This situation reflects the mutually beneficial relationships between government "elites" and foreign business.

The government has instituted policies for increasing the percentage of timber processed in the country (e.g. through a ban on log exports) and keeping value in the country. However this has not significantly increased the sales figures nor local employment, since local companies lack the financial, technical, commercial and management competence to operate independently of the foreign companies.. The expatriate companies typically arrange for timber to be processed either in Europe or by European companies in Africa.

(4) Between the Government of Cameroon and International Donors and Multilateral Institutions

Structural adjustment programmes, which governments are often obliged to undertake for economic reasons, often strongly promote government downsizing and privatisation. This can lead to the exploitation of natural resources to generate revenue and lack of supervision or lack of capacity to enforce rules and regulations requiring sound forestry practices. Indeed, such programmes can increase the dominance of foreign companies, especially as former "parastatals" are privatised and often sold to such companies when locally owned companies do not have the financial resources to buy them.

The weak economic condition of the government creates an open-door policy towards donor resources. This leads to cases of counter productive and contradictory donor projects oriented towards resource management being implemented simultaneously. Those affected by these projects and policies are mainly the forest communities. In some cases, foreign assistance projects may facilitate the logging operations, for example, by supporting the construction of roads and other infrastructure.

Impact Of Power Disparities On Equity

Power disparities are often expressed in inequitable distributions of benefits, inequitable rights, and inequitable decision-making power. In the conflicts between foreign logging companies and local villagers, the power disparity has changed their access to the resource area being logged. The change in tax policies, done without consulting the local people, has changed the distribution of benefits, creating an inequitable representation (through policy) of the villagers needs.

A change in access and decision-making power, resulting from the power imbalances also changes use of the resource. This is seen in the area where research for sustainable forest management is taking place. According to the local people, the companies, by claiming to use a forest area for sustainable forest management, are in actuality preventing the villagers from using the area for agriculture.

Often there is an imbalance between the benefits accruing to the consumer country (the more powerful) and those accruing to the producer country. These stem from national regulations that allow foreign companies to ignore local norms, remove the control that local people have over the resource and in turn reduce their interest in protecting the resource. It also reduces local peopleDRs economic control over the resource. Policies within the foreign countries, regarding importation of value-added goods and vertical integration of companies also affects the economic benefit derived by the local villagers. Without the implementation of policies and laws to safe-guard the interests of the local people, it is essentially left up to the "good will" of the economically powerful logging companies to determine the distribution of the benefits through informal mechanisms.

Impact Of Power Disparities On The Process Of Conflict Management

When conflicts arise between different groups, the level of power of each group often determines the avenues they can use to manage the conflict or safe-guard their interests.

The forest dependent communities in Cameroon tried using several alternative ways of having their grievances addressed, such as writing letters to internationally powerful decision-makers who had financial interests in the logging company, negotiating directly with the companies (and obtaining written agreements) and addressing the local authorities. When these means of recourse were exhausted and failed to satisfy them, and when the agreements had not been respected, they felt forced to turn to more unorthodox and physical means, such as blockading the timber companies and kidnapping the expatriate workers. The police were obliged to intervene and arrest and imprison some members of the local communities. The villagers, being relatively powerless, lacked legal or formal means to redress the situation.

In this case study, economic stakes seem to be at the heart of the conflicts. The local people were facing a daily struggle to survive. The government also needed to raise revenue. Donor policy added pressure to increase revenue and downsize government agencies, including those involved in oversight and regulatory functions. Private sector firms were interested in maximising profits. The economic weakness of the local people was further aggravated by the relative economic weakness of their government, which had formed alliances with the logging companies. The government legal, financial and political machinery was therefore typically used to protect and reflect the interests of the government officials, international banks and those of the logging companies. These economic weaknesses also presented a situation in which both the government and the villagers could be co-opted by foreign companies and be constrained by conditionalities of loans and projects that did not always consider the impact at a local level and might exacerbate government weakness vis-a-vis the private sector.

As of 1993, when this case study was written, the power disparities between the parties had not been reconciled and remained a major constraint to conflict management. . Economic issues, political power, the legal and financial system all seemed at that time to have inhibited equitable dialogue which could have led to successful conflict management.

2.2 Case Study Two: Re-Writing Forestry Law In Bolivia 2/

The following case study focuses upon the conflict management processes used in attempts to revise Forestry Legislation in Bolivia in a participatory manner, and illustrates the potential benefits that come from involving top-level decision makers in inter-sectoral dialogues, even when the larger administrative-bureaucratic culture is one characterised by power structures which allow few opportunities for participatory decision making.

In I994, Bolivian authorities were engaged in discussions involving a revision of forestry law for their country. Given the competing economic, social and ecological interests, the pervasiveness of conflict, and the different motives of the various actors, the various decision-makers were unable to reach a consensus about what could be salvaged of previous forestry regulations nor agree on various new proposals that had been put forward. Threats to the traditional economic interests of the commercial timber industry were the source of strongest opposition to the new proposal. Government authorities within the Forestry Department had also generated conflict by announcing that some parts of the proposed law were non-negotiable. Lobbying and negotiations to prevent changes had been taking place for several months. Local communities and environmental NGOs expressed their views, mainly through the mass media. Parliamentarians were divided and, with few exceptions, had little knowledge of the forestry-related issues or technicalities under discussion. Some parties felt that the difficulties in dealing with technical issues at a national level were exaggerated by the positions taken by official delegations on international conventions such as CITES or the Biodiversity Convention. The disparate and contentious positions represented in the discussion persuaded the policy-makers to press for a facilitated discussion of the issues. The Fundacion Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA), a private organization based in Ecuador, specialising in conflict resolution and participatory policy review processes, was hired to facilitate a one-day meeting, with the objective of reaching a consensus on the most critical points of disagreement concerning the proposed law.

There were several steps in the process preparatory to the meeting. First, FFLA researched the history of forestry law in Bolivia, the economic, social and ecological interests, the causes for conflict, the different actors and the rational behind previous regulations and the proposed ones, and then wrote a background paper. Bolivian organisations and individuals from government, universities, research centres and NGOs were contacted in order to obtain factual information and perspectives of the different groups involved in the conflict. A survey was undertaken by Bolivian experts, and 20 key people and *stakeholders" were selected to participate in the discussion: decision-makers familiar with forestry law, people who had been involved in developing the past law, and people who should have a voice in preparing the new one. The background paper, written by FFLA, was circulated among all the participants, as well as a proposed agenda, the ground rules for the meeting (including that each person had an equal right to express her or his viewpoint)and a list of all who would be attending. FFLA also was given the responsibility of ensuring appropriate logistical arrangements; no observers, advisors or members of the press were allowed to attend, this to facilitate the spontaneous exchange of views and foster an atmosphere where agreements could be more freely negotiated. The case study author indicates that the invited participants expressed an interest in (and scepticism about) the proposed conflict management methodology and were genuinely curious about whether there would be any possibility of overcoming the most critical elements of the conflict.

Early in the one day meeting, the two FFLA co-mediators facilitated a discussion of the present inequitable conditions of development, of traditional patterns of over-exploitation of natural resources, of the responsibility of leaders to secure equity and improvement of the lifestyle of the majority of the people, and of the basics of sustainable development. This led pariticipants into a dialogue about their values and value differences as well as their common interests. The facilitators realised a need to address issues of power imbalance. Experience and personal character provide some decision-makers with a more powerful presence than others, and in cases like this, it was recognised that these qualities were often linked to economic and political power. It was also recognised that the reserve perceived in decision-makers from rural and indigenous communities was a result of less formal education, often making it difficult for them to articulate elaborate arguments. However, in balancing power, it was important to recognise as well that power does not always manifest itself in spoken language and explicit behaviour. In the case of Latin American indigenous peoples, for example, silence and passive behaviour in response to strong and impressive statements can be equally forceful. The numerical imbalance between women and men decision-makers did not appear to be an obstacle. None of the differences or hostilities were thought to be attributed to gender roles. In the negotiation, space was given for some players to assume facilitative roles, demonstrating their abilities to analyse, synthesise, and build a consensus - and, in the process, acknowledge that they heard and understood opposing arguments.

While significant progress was made during the one-day meeting, final agreement was not reached on the proposal for a new Bolivian Forestry Law. Most of the contentious points, however, were agreed upon by all the participants: (1) the concept of "timber concession" was agreed upon, including the role of the government, the need for annual evaluations and basis for renewing contracts, and the length of contracts; (2) the fee structure, considering both the length of the contract and the volume of timber harvested; and (3) the division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Sustainable Development (responsible for the management of forest lands) and Ministry of Industry (responsible for trade). At the time of the writing of this paper, no decision had been reached on several issues - including the amount of the fee charged per hectare to timber concessions, this the major point of the conflict and a point that required more information before there could be more negotiations.

Despite not being able to draft a new Forestry Law (in the one-day meeting or since), the author of the case study feels that the facilitated discussion was perceived as being a successful experiment in promoting "an authentic and equitable dialogue" for a number of reasons. This dialogue, she says, was the first opportunity for decision-makers from different interest groups to discuss their positions where opportunity for negotiation was offered. In addition, prior to this meeting, none of the participants had had an opportunity to analyse the legal issues in forestry from an integrated perspective and none of them had taken any effort to discuss the conflict with the participation of other interested parties. In addition to the progress that was made in re-writing the law, the participants valued the dialogue for the following reasons: (1) it was a good opportunity to meet leaders from different sectors face-to-face and share with them their differences, their fears as well as their expectations, to broaden their perspectives, even to "let their best qualities surface;" (2) more was accomplished and decisions were more quickly reached through the collective exercise; and (3) the discussion helped them identify weaknesses and gaps in the present legal and institutional arrangements. FFLA also feels that the agreements reached by the decision-makers have "filtered down" to the constituencies they represent, making ultimate agreement more likely, this too a measure of success of the facilitated process. Finally, the two FFLA mediators felt that the fact that they were conversant with the technical as well as socio-cultural and commercial aspects related to forestry was critical to their being accepted by all parties; in addition, the fact that they were both Latin Americans but not Bolivians legitimated their independent role and provided assurance of their being committed to in contributing to a national solution within a regional context.

The case study demonstrates that in a region, where often institutional capacity is still weak, where democratic principles are not always fully recognised, where economic and social power controls political processes, important changes can be achieved by involving decision-makers in policy dialogues in the context of a conflict management process. High level decision-makers were willing to negotiate changes even where it would have been easy for them to fall back on arguments based in class interests or bureaucratic territoriality. In addition, there is now, on the part of the participants in the process, an open recognition and legitimisation of the value of such inter-sectoral dialogues and a willingness to promote similar methodologies to solve other important conflicts that affect their country.

It is still too early to predict how much such a conflict management session will influence future trends in decision-making. Nor is it easy to anticipate how long it might take to institutionalise participatory processes. It is clear, however, that to produce changes in present models of decision-making and guarantee their long term effectiveness, the changes must occur at several levels simultaneously: decision-makers as well as community members, rural as well as urban groups, government as well as NGOs, must modify existing models and help create a more participatory society and influence long term policies consistent with sustainable development practices.

2.3 Case Study Three: Creating Village forest reserves in Tanzania 3/

In 1995, eight villages adjacent to a 90 square kilometre forest in Babati District, received Village Title Deeds which grant them full authority over the forest lands that border their villages. In a precedent setting decision, the District Council also approved.

Village By Laws for the Management and Use of the Village Forests, thus recognising the villagers' legal role in the planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the conservation management of their forest and tree resources; at the same time, local government control over these same resources was rescinded. The authors of the article, upon which this case study is developed, suggest that this Tanzanian example of village-level reserves might be unique in Africa; they also see this transfer of ownership from the state to the village as being different from the type of joint forest management practised in India and Nepal.

The Duru-Haitemba forest is described as a medium canopy dry woodland area, close to well settled agro-pastoral communities and not too distant from the growing district capital. Since time immemorial, the forest has met the fuelwood and building materials needs of villages, as well as served as a place to graze their cattle, gather honey, and collect other forest products. Certain portions of the forest are designated as sacred, and even today are left intact. Elders consider the forest, as well as other local natural resources, to have been managed "sustainably" historically, each of the villages observing traditional rules of use and tenure. Perhaps because the forest was not considered one of significant commercial value, it was not gazetted as a formal Forest Reserve during colonial times, either for purposes of protection or for government revenue generation. The traditional common resource practices were given official recognition in the 1970s, during the "villagisation" process, when the eight villages were formally registered and the forest was sub-divided into eight distinct "village forests". In the early 1980s, however, the Government made a unilateral decision (from the villages' perspective) to begin the process of converting Duru-Haitemba into a registered Forest Reserve, placing a Forestry Guard in the area with sole authority for issuing permits for virtually all access to the forest. Under these circumstances, there was nearly a decade of conflict and unsustainable forest use, including encroachment for timber felling, agricultural purposes, brick making and charcoal burning. There was, too, was a gradual weakening of a sense of local responsibility and a growing feeling of popular disempowerment.

In 1992, a Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA)-supported Regional Forestry Programme survey team began formal demarcation of a boundary for the proposed Duru-Haitemba Forest Reserve. Angered by this activity, representatives of the villages appealed to both the consulting team and to the government and were successful in halting the reservation process. Whereas typically, in an antagonistic situation like this, the government might use its power to implement a top-down directive, instead, with the support of the district's political leadership and the donor, district forestry personnel, village officials, and other villagers formed teams to survey the forest. Taking advantage of existing village government organization, including sub-village assemblies which included representatives from the majority of over 3,500 households, each of the villages fashioned a Village Forest Management Plan, which opened with a statement of conservation principles and included lists of rules about what forest uses which were acceptable, what uses were acceptable with permits, and what uses were unacceptable. Approximately 50 villagers were selected as Forestry Guards, and a system of fines was established, with the money collected being deposited in village bank accounts.

The whole process was inclusive and highly participatory. Village assemblies were frequent and well attended; there were many issues to negotiate and often the decisions reached were controversial. In most cases, for example, neighbouring villages' cattle were excluded from grazing or even passing through the newly defined Village Forest Reserves. Typically, individuals were no longer permitted to harvest trees or clear land for farming, although some felling of trees was allowed for village use. In some villages, individuals were no longer issued permits to cut fuelwood for brick-burning; in others, brick-burners were required to plant trees on their farms. Some Forestry Guards and village officials found the work, largely uncompensated, to be too demanding. There were, in addition, boundaries to negotiate. In general, however, rather than feeling that such tensions and choices were debilitating, villagers found the experience empowering, their ownership and control of the forests forcing them to address issues of stock reduction and land use planning, for example, that had not been viewed as their responsibility for years.

Perhaps the most interesting question is why district-level officials were supportive of Village Forest Reserves as an alternative to government registration, turning over control to "the very people whom conventional forestry has regarded as 'the problem,' not the solution, to forest conservation"? (Wily and Haule 1995:35) In fact, the donor-funded Regional Forestry Programme first hired the outside consultant not as a facilitator but as someone who could carry out a three-week participatory rural appraisal (PRA) as a basis for "smoothing the way towards (gazetting the forest)." (1995:31) Part of the answer is that the forest management plans embodied the very principles and rules that government foresters were advocating, and illegal use of the forests had declined dramatically. In addition, district foresters' policing role often cast them as the "enemy," and their new, more facilitative and technical advisor role was considerably more attractive and workable. There was something attractive, as well, to the fact that village self-management of the forests was accomplished "at virtually no cost to the government, and without the conflict and costs government management would have engendered." It is also possible, the authors admit, that this transfer of ownership would have more difficult if more valuable tracts of natural forest had been involved.

Another question has to do with the process used in securing agreements at all the different levels (within and between households, infra village, and inter village), between user groups, between women and men, between people of different generations and means of livelihood, indeed in having the approach accepted as policy at the district and, eventually, national levels. Part of the formal process, from the initial PRA and survey of the forest, begun in October I994, to the development of management plans to the brokering of the Village Forest Reserves approach to government officials, was facilitated by the consultant hired by the SIDA-funded project. In this facilitative role, the consultant used classic conflict management approaches, serving as a link between parties or as mediator/co-mediator in different forums: helping people and groups to identify the relevant actors; assuring representativeness; articulating and prioritising issues; rephrasing parties' statements; making certain that different perspectives are heard and understood; exploring alternatives and the workability of proposed solutions; securing a willingness to break new ground and take risks; and keeping track of tentative contractual language. In another mode, by helping clarify communities' issues, the facilitator consciously politicised the conflict, helping people mobilise and gain support, and taking steps which shifted the locus of control and responsibility to the communities and their negotiators, dealing here with power imbalances. What came out in the negotiations was a shared perception of the problems with the status quo, a recognition that the villages' interests were very similar to the interests of the District Council and government foresters, and a feeling of commitment to co-operation and partnership. The villagers were also able to make the point in these forums that their proposals involved less administrative cost, could be regarded as experimental, were consistent with a national policy of decentralisation, and that they, as villagers, would be dependent upon officials championing their cause as well as their technical expertise and understanding of the law. In a little over a year's time, the eight villages received Title Deeds to their portions of the forest, and approval of their forest management plans and Village By Laws making them the responsible management authority by law. Other districts in Tanzania have studied the approach used in Duru-Haitemba, however, and the central government is considering the policy option of village-owned and village managed reserves on a larger scale.


Although it is always hazardous to attempt to extrapolate lessons from such a limited number of case studies, there do seem to be some common threads and some hypotheses which can be made about conflicts, power relationships and conflict management.

3.1 The impact of the economic importance of the resource.

The case studies presented here show that where the resource reflects important economic and commercial interests, this tends to raise the stakes and make conflicts more difficult to resolve. These situations seem to require a fairly fundamental change in economic relationships which are hard to achieve. Empowering the weaker parties in such situations can assist them in having their interests and needs taken into consideration by the more powerful parties.

3.2 The role of the facilitator/mediator.

Where power is unequal, the role of a facilitator seems critical. The absence of a "gobetween" in the continuing conflict in the Cameroon stands out against the key role played by facilitators in the Bolivian and Tanzanian cases. Facilitators can be important in levelling the playing field and promoting equitable dialogue. Several characteristics of the facilitator may merit mention here. For instance it appears that the facilitators must be powerful in their own right and command respect. In the two case studies involving facilitators/mediators, it was important that they be knowledgeable about the conflictual issues, as well as skilled in conflict management, and that they come from the outside the area (so as to be seen as being objective, perhaps even neutral).

3.3 The role of bilateral and multi-lateral organisations

The role of organisations from outside the country, in which conflict occurs, may affect the internal "playing field" and the prospects for equitable dialogue. These organisations are often powerful and influence policies and programmes within the country, which in turn can have negative or positive effects on the promotion of equitable dialogue. In the Cameroon case study, the influence of these organisations seems to have, perhaps inadvertently, exacerbated the conflict between local communities and logging companies and contributed to resource degradation. In Tanzania, the overall effect of the outside organisation seems to have been beneficial, first using its influence or leverage to bring a halt to an activity that communities viewed as being counter to their interests, and ultimately supporting a policy of local control and management. The result seems to be a situation where the main parties are satisfied and the resource is better managed. 'Bilateral and multi-lateral agencies have the potential to have significant impact on the shape of negotiations.

3.4 The role of an appropriate government "culture".

The government stance, both formal and informal, with regard to rural development is perhaps also important. Policies promoting rural areas, empowerment, decentralisation, negotiated development, etc., tend to set the stage for forums that promote or allow more equity. It appears that increased government decentralisation facilitates conflict management (as the process of empowerment or greater equity is already in place or in progress). It is also useful that the legal framework is flexible in itself or there is a willingness for it to be flexible and practical in its interpretation. Government officials, regardless of their official terms of reference, who see themselves as "public servants" and are encouraged to be responsive to local conditions and take initiative, can take pride in offering a voice to the relatively powerless and in defining more equitable policy.

3.5 The role of alliances and networking.

From the case studies presented here it would appear that situations where actors have a multitude of options for recourse tend to promote more equitable dialogue. For instance, in the Bolivian case, some actors made their case through the media. In Tanzania, the fact that the government was not "monolithic" enabled rural communities to have a better chance of seeking allies, finding support and being heard.

3.6 The role of local political organisation.

Communities that are well organised seem to be in a better position to safe-guard their interests especially with more powerful entities, for example, the government and commercial interests. In such communities, it is easier to identify spokespeople who are representative of local people's interests and who are less likely to be co-opted by either more powerful parties or by the conflict management process. The representatives of such communities should be able to articulate the needs of the community as a whole and also channel information back to the community.

3.7 The role of the time element.

Levelling the playing field takes time as well as commitment. In the Bolivian case study, although the meeting lasted only one day, significant efforts over several months were made to prepare the meeting. However, while decision-makers were ready to accommodate a one-day meeting, this was too short a period of face-to-face interaction to allow for major progress on legislation. In the Tanzanian example, the process took slightly more than a year - survey work, meetings, negotiations, and intermittent "facilitations," etc. - which demonstrates the investedness, commitment, and flexibility of the various parties and ultimately the willingness of various levels of government to take necessary risks. While there is no "recipe" for successful conflict management, the case studies show that the process entails a sequence of activities or steps from information gathering to face-to-face meetings to monitoring or follow-up activities. Assuring that each step is adequately accomplished before moving on would seem to be key to successful management of conflicts.

3.8 The role of information.

The saying goes that information is power. When parties have access to or are provided with the same information, power inequities are reduced. In addition, both the Bolivian and Tanzanian cases show that early investments in information gathering and dissemination help level the playing field. Generating and using information also serves to raise people's consciousness, perhaps even politicise the process, which is particularly critical for less powerful groups, whether in face-to-face negotiations or while lobbying for support outside of the negotiation arena.


This paper began by asking a number of questions relating power relationships to conflict management, the importance of power differences to dispute resolution strategies, the circumstances under which powerful interests might be willing to "negotiate away" the advantages they might appear to have, and the need for . These all remain important areas for discussion. The dramatically different case studies raise other kinds of questions as well.

(1) Can power disparity create a situation in which the conflicts do not get the same amount of visibility they would if there were less of a power disparity between the parties? Could, for example, more powerful parties control the media and present themselves as being UHpro-environment,DH participatory, and considerate of the interests of the local populace, merely because they have more resources at their disposal?.

(2) Often NGOs might recommend timber certification as a way of promoting sustainable harvesting and local employment. Would this have helped in the Cameroon case where enforcement/monitoring is almost non-existent?

(3) Are agreements worked out through an alternative conflict management process likely to be upheld when the weaker party does not have a legal structure to support it? If a commercial interest, for example, does not honour its commitment, what recourse do local communities have?

(4) How replicable are conflict management activities (or "interventions") in other conflict and cultural contexts? How dependent was the model used in Bolivia dependent on the particular bureaucratic-administrative culture that was in place? Is the "space" for negotiation and legal change, documented in the Tanzanian case study, specific to that country or are there other situations on the African continent where local management and ownership of forest resources is possible?

(5) Who should facilitate? Where should facilitators come from? What kinds of backgrounds and training should they have? What would have happened in a case, such as that described in Tanzania, if there had not been donor funding for someone to function in this role? How can a facilitator role be institutionalised?

(6) Under what kinds of circumstances are more powerful parties willing to negotiate with groups that are viewed as being weaker? Are there examples (other than those used here from Tanzania and Bolivia) where powerful groups were willing to enter into negotiations where they might be expected to agree to give up some of their power? What were the incentives? What are the minimal and optimal conditions that should be in place before the "lion" can be brought to the negotiation table with the 'lamb'?

(7) Conversely, are there circumstances where bringing the weaker party to the negotiation table might lead to further disadvantaging that party? In the case from Cameroon, for example, were representatives from local communities involved in negotiations with more powerful parties, is it not likely that they would be put a position where their interests could be co-opted?


1. This case study is based on a report by Herman Verhagen and Chris Enthoven, "Logging and Conflicts in the Rainforests of Cameroon", Report of the Netherlands Committee for IUCN (The World Conservation Union) and Vereniging Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), July 1993.

2. The material for the Bolivian case study was drawn from a draft of a discussion paper written for the E-Conference by Yolanda Kakabadse, "Knights at the Roundtable: On Promoting an Authentic and Equitable Dialogue under Inequitable Conditions," 22 February 1996. She served as one of the FFLA facilitators in the effort to re-write Bolivian forestry law, described in this case study.

3. The material for this case study was drawn from Liz Wily and Othmar Haule, "Good News from Tanzania: Village Forest Reserves in the Making - the Story of Duru-Hitemba," Forests, Trees and People Newsletter, No. 29, November 1995, pp. 28-37, and from personal communications with Liz Wily, 27 February, 6 March and 9 March 1996. Liz Wily, who has had a long term relationship with Babati District, is the consultant/facilitator hired by the SIDA-funded Regional Forestry Programme, Tanzania; Othmar Haule is the District Forestry Officer, Babati District, Arusha Region.

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