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Visit to Boucar FALL: A traditional chief of fishermen in Hann-Pêcheurs and how this inspires us

A real consideration of customary power within public policy could be contributing to the sustainable management of fisheries resources

In traditional communities, the dichotomy between modern and customary power reveals itself as being all but a myth. Boucar FALL is a traditional chief of the fishermen in Hann-Pêcheurs (the fishing village inside the town of Hann). According to Boucar Fall, in the past, governments have always relied on customary power to manage conflicts between citizens, whether in the field of conflict in general or that of the distribution and collective management of natural resources. The traditional leader illustrates this statement through a few examples, without trying to be comprehensive, of course.

First, despite the existence of courts, the gendarmerie and police that are very competent in their field, conflicts between the inhabitants of Hann, have always been settled at the village level, in the courtyard of the village chief, a responsibility exercised by Boucar FALL. He inherited it from his father, the late Babacar Fall. Still according to Mr. FALL, each time a resident of Hann has a complaint against another at different levels of the gendarmerie or police, the men in uniform return it without delay to the village chief, to find a local solution.

Second, continues the traditional leader, the traditional authorities were traditionally heavily involved in organising the exploitation of natural resources. In the case of fishing for example, both inland and maritime, each fishing area and a resident local chief, who was responsible for fishing in general and at the same time head of the village or community (especially for the camps of migrants). The latter has always been at the head of the local community bodies that were responsible for issues as concrete and related to (i) how the coastal zone should be occupied by the users; and to (ii) institutionalised 'informal' arrangements for regulating access to resources with the well-known practice of the coast of Senegal, who saw the fishermen set up a rotating access system to resources.

According to our interlocutor, the role of the customary power in conflict resolution is not new and therefore contemporary with the modern state. He recalls some very striking facts to support his statements to the effect that (i) during the colonial era, the French authorities in office never entered the village without prior notice to the village chief, at the time Boubacar Ndiongue, a native of Walo and founder of the fishing village of Hann (Hann-Pêcheurs). He founded the first quarter of this fishing community, today called Waloga, part of a village that has grown very significantly since. These social mechanisms regulating villagers coexisted with the conventional state rules, are at least taken into account by the modern world and created even a reverse situation: a conflict of competence and authority between the Law and what communities see as their traditional Rights.

This jurisdictional dispute explains (even if it does not justify) the reluctance of fishing communities to deal with various technical and legal instruments (State Code for Fisheries, different tools promoted by the FAO, etc.), set up by public authorities for the sustainable management of resources. The lack of full adherence to these measures - giving future prospects for the sustainable management of resources - from the very people, who are both prime victims of the resource crisis but also with a share of their responsibility, is largely a crisis a balance between modernity and tradition in the specific area of co-management.

This crisis in the institutional arrangements is becoming acute in the now fashionable modalities imposed from above in the name of co-management. These new arrangements are carried forward by a more or less recent phenomenon of decentralisation, which is gradually supplanting the traditional regulatory bodies. The results will appear in the arrangements between the different sources of values and ways of resolving conflicts and relationships and their ability to prevail in practice.

Fotos by Stefan Karkow.

Wife of Boucar Fall, marabou of the fishermen in Hann-Pêcheurs, SenegalFamily members in front of the house of Boucar Fall, marabou of the fishermen in Hann-Pêcheurs, SenegalBoucar Fall in front of his house chatting with Ibrahima Niang after the prayer, Hann-Pêcheurs, Senegal