Struggle for autonomy : seeing gold and forest like a local government in Northern Burkina Faso
This thesis seeks to clarify the role that democratic decentralisation reforms play in dynamics of state building in developing societies where states are often qualified as weak. Within the literature, on natural resource management, democratic decentralisation is seen to either erode public authority in favour of non-state actors, or to strengthen it, as a repertoire of domination hiding an illegitimate recentralisation of control. In the light of these contradictory statements, I propose positing the exercise of public authority as an empirical question. Situating my work within geography and anthropology, I examine the exercise of public authority, that I call institutional power, in a context of competing claims to gold and forest resources in the commune of Séguénéga in North Burkina Faso. An analysis of the way overlapping and competing institutions of power relate in the everyday in the field of decentralisation brings to light the significance of autonomy, and I argue that the relevance of the state is enhanced under decentralisation through the politics of autonomy. Three concepts are mobilised to make this case. Regulation sheds light on the fact that the forms of institutional power over gold and woodfuel are characterised by the degree of autonomy that they enjoy vis-à-vis government. Recognition as a concept queries the durability of institutional power. It shows that where the rule of law weak, or where autonomy vis-à-vis the rule of law in greater, institutions of power emerge from the relations of recognition between government and non-government sanctioned institutions of power. As these institutions operate at the twilight of lawfulness and lawlessness, the democratic decentralisation reform presents an opportunity for these institutions to increase their authority. This claim is made through the operation of the concept of political field. I show that democratic decentralisation has created a democratic field, which is semi-autonomous from the bureaucratic and customary fields. As institutions of power struggle for authority over gold and forest resources in the democratic field, a particular kind of politics emerges and is articulated around claims of autonomy. Through the politics of autonomy, the rule of law is recognised by both state and non-state sanctioned institutions of power, and the state is being built.
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