Most contemporary discussions on African development since independence forty years ago emphasize the notion that Africa is still “mal parti”. Many show discontent for what has been achieved in this time, despite that “Africa works” as is suggested by Chabal and Daloz in their widely discussed book (1999). I will focus on the issue of sustainable development in Africa. This will be illustrated by the presentation of a common property resource management research project (on fisheries, pastures, wildlife, water for irrigation, and forests). The question of why the overuse of natural resources and conflicts over resources are occurring in modern day Africa is addressed here. This research project is called “Common Property Institutions and Power Relations: Resource Management, Change and Conflicts in African Floodplain Wetlands”. It focuses on six African floodplain wetlands in semi-arid zones (Internal Niger Delta in Mali, Hadejia-Jama'ara in Northern Nigeria, Logone Floodplain in Northern Cameroon, Pangani Floodplain in Tanzania, Okavango Delta in Botswana and Kafue Flats in Zambia (Haller 2001)). This work will be conducted by students from the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Zurich and by local students in these wetland areas, and will be under my supervision. The aim is to make a comparative analysis of these wetland areas, which should lead to a better understanding of the processes of resource use responsible for environmental problems and conflicts in these areas. The project is integrated in the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) with the title “NCCR North-South: Research Partnerships for Mitigation Syndromes of Global Change”. In this competence centre, research for mitigation of diverse problems concerning development in the Third World will be done over the next 10 years by a large group of Swiss research institutions who will conduct this research in partnership with local scientists in Third World Countries (SARPI 2000). The competence centre consists of different subprojects, one of them being the IP6 “Institutional Change and Livelihood Strategies”, in which the presented research project on African floodplain wetlands is integrated. To illustrate the aim of the project and to give some reflections on institutional change and conflicts, two cases from Northern Nigeria and Mali will be presented. These two cases show how common property resources (CPR) such as fisheries were institutionally managed in former times, and how the traditional institutions have changed over the last forty years.
The aim of the wetlands project is to test the validity of the New Institutionalism theories on CPR Resource Management in a specific ecological and political setting. Firstly, the design principles by Elinor Ostrom on robust institutions for the sustainable use of CPR-resources (Ostrom 1990, Becker and Ostrom 1995) are compared with local CPR-institutions in the selected wetlands areas. Secondly, theories and approaches of the New Institutional Economics and Anthropology (North 1990, Ensminger 1992) will be tested. Finally, Jean Ensminger's explanations concerning institutional change and bargaining power are looked at in particular.
(African Anthropologist: 2002 9(1): 25-35)