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View the documentSome aspects of local government and environmental management in the Sudan
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Some aspects of local government and environmental management in the Sudan

Salih A. el-Arifi
University of Khartoum

Traditional economic behaviour is very much influenced by the environment. In the absence of sophisticated technology, environmental control over livelihood patterns and means of production becomes almost absolute. Since choices are carefully defined, man strives to utilize and fulfil such choices to the best of his knowledge and needs. Concepts such as rational resource-use and protection become essential in achieving an unchallenged existence and continuity of life. As such, it is rational to assume that traditional societies avoid man-made environmental catastrophes, since these will drastically affect their lives. Because of such fears, people regulate the use of available resources and become sensitive to environmental demands and changing conditions. For example, shifting cultivation and pastoral nomadic migration are forms of rational resource-use and exhibit an inherent human reaction and sensitivity to particular environments in the absence of scientific knowledge and advanced technology. Such behaviour or adjustments are intended to achieve subsistence and to strike a balance between environmental conditions and the present and future needs of society. To achieve this, the sense of the environment is embodied in local cultures, and in the process of evolution many institutions and simple organizations have emerged to regulate resource-use and to make it possible to meet the limited demands of traditional life systems.

In addition, man has learned to conserve resources, either through land-use systems or by inventing technology for resource conservation. For example, the triangular nomadic migrations of the Kababish are meant to avoid summer grazing areas, thus preserving water supply and pastures for another season of the year. Similarly, the Hamar of western Sudan have evolved a system of conservation of limited resources using traditional technology. Among the Hamar, hollowed trunks of tebeldi (Adansonia digitata) are used for storing water for the dry season. Furthermore, the traditional method of construction of wells in sandy areas of western Sudan, where underground water is available, becomes a dynamic factor controlling population distribution and land carrying capacities. The construction and maintenance of such wells are very specialized operations. Digging in unstable sandy layers, for example, must be accomplished by simultaneously digging and lining the interior of the well from the top downwards with the roots and branches of sidr trees (Zizyphus) or similar species.

Regulations and protection of land and related resources are observed by individuals according to their established rights and supervised by an arbitration system under traditional leadership. In sedentary communities there are three rights: the right to a plot of land for constructing a hut; the right to a piece of land for farming: and the right to cut wood, which may be extended to include gum arabic collection. These traditional rights are protected by relatively limited demands and by local leadership. In some cases rights and obligations become laws, and failure to observe them constitutes a punishable act. In this regard, Sultan Dali's laws and regulations were perhaps the best example of codes passed and enforced with the intention of protecting resource-use in Darfur in the seventeenth century [Sin, 1957). Such laws, or traditional land-use were meant to create an equilibrium between human demand and the capability of the environment.

None of the present traditional systems in the Sudan can be viewed as a closed system since they are constantly being subjected to urbanizing influences, which, quite apart from the drought (mahal), are bringing about new man-environment relationships. Although drought is an external factor, people have evolved systems of adaptation to accommodate its periodic occurrence. As a result, several options are open to present-day farmers: they may either revert to pastoral nomadism, grow quick-maturing crops, or migrate elsewhere. All these options are operating in western Sudan.

Urbanizing influences come from modernization programmes, which may or may not be well planned and co-ordinated, and from increasing urban demands for the natural resources and livestock products of the traditional sector. Poorly conceived modernization programmes and increasing demands for the products of the traditional sector of the economy have resulted in new relationships which adversely affect the ecological equilibrium. This is reflected in cultural and other activity patterns and in environmental conditions.

The People's Local Government Act was enacted in 1971 in an attempt to modernize traditional systems of government. The present paper aims at looking at this new local government organization in the Sudan, and its effect on manenvironment relationships. The new system of local government will be judged by its adaptability and effectiveness in observing and enforcing the values of traditional society as far as land-use and environmental protection are concerned. Only the impact on grazing and forestry in western Sudan will be considered. It is hoped that this short analysis will highlight the problems of urban dominance in planning for rural areas, and what is required of local administrative organizations from the viewpoint of environmental management.

Some Environmental Aspects of the Native Administration

Before the system of native administration was dissolved, it was responsible for maintaining order, organizing the use of resources, preventing crime, and collecting taxes. The system was based on heads of tribes and their subordinates, from the smallest unit of the village or nomadic camp upwards into various levels and areas of administration. During the colonial era, the British government endorsed the native hereditary system of government and passed several laws and regulations to organize and regularize the administrative and judiciary powers of native administrators. Key enactments include the Powers of the Nomadic Sheakhs Ordinance, 1922, the Powers of Sheikhs Ordinance, 1927; and the Native Court Ordinance, 1932 Through their wide representation and their qualities of leadership and power, they performed government duties at all local administrative levels.

Generally, native chiefs were influential and extremely dominant in local political and economic lives. Some, however, were accused of being exploitative and openly dishonest. Moreover, they supported powerful non-urban and non-leftist political parties, rousing sentiment against them and calls for the abolition of their positions. This became a reality when urban and leftist politics became dominant after 1969.

The powers of traditional leadership were intended to regulate the use of the environment and to prevent its destruction. This authority was either embodied in various government natural resources ordinances or acquired by tradition. For example, the former 1932 Forest Ordinance gave the nazir, the omda, and the sheiks* the right to arrest any person reasonably suspected of having been concerned in a forest offence (Sudan, forest Ordinance, 1932). Furthermore, such offences could be tried under native courts, again headed by local leadership such as the chief (nazir, mek, or sultan) or his deputies. In addition to this and other government laws and ordinances, the native administration performed other hereditary functions related to the use of the environment. For example, in annual tribal conferences many problems related to tribal boundaries, nomadic migration routes, water supply and grazing appropriations were settled, in addition to trying theft and murder cases. Such annual meetings were attended by all the leaders concerned, and were successful in at least organizing the use of resources ahead of time and reviewing and settling existing problems. Low-level readerships existed to supervise and implement such tribal agreements and regulations. Problems such as fires were dealt with immediately and agreement on punishment or compensations was arrived at, either through the administrative leadership or the arbitrating elders (known as agaweid, ugada, or damalieg). The tribal organizations may have had different ranks of elders or wise men who dealt with problems according to the degree of seriousness.

In the process of organizing the use of resources, some hereditary rights of chiefs were thought to be exploitative. For example, in many places in western Sudan, the nomads were made to pay adalat el-Beir (a form of traditional tax) to local chiefs in return for using the local pastures and water supplies. Although this tax went to the chiefs, it was paid against an assurance of future water supplies. In essence, this tax was no different from water charges now paid to government for frequenting its watering points.

Other rights might include, for example, a royalty levied on the collection of gum arable from nomprivate plots. This royalty was decided on the basis of a percentage of the amounts collected by individuals, and was usually paid to the most senior native leader. Because of such private payments, leaders developed an interest in the hashab tree (Acacia senegal) and discouraged cutting or burning. Furthermore, fire breaks were cleared by the local people every year after the rainy season, according to the law and regulations, and this annual activity was carried out under the supervision of local leaders.

From this limited number of examples of the obligations of local leaders, it is evident that they were people of sufficient knowledge and skill and well-positioned to solve disputes and regulate the use of resources according to government laws or hereditary rights that were well-observed and appreciated by the community.

The 1971 People's Local Government Act

The People's Local Government Act of 1971 replaced the 1951 Local Government Ordinance and abolished the functions and duties of traditional native local government. The objectives of the Act are to create an advanced system of administration with political and economic functions and create better channels of decision-making from the village or nomadic camp upwards to the provincial level (Sudan, Ministry of Local Government..., 1971). In rural areas, village councils and nomadic camp councils are now grouped into rural councils and these in turn are grouped into area councils supervised by the People's Province Executive

Councils (PPEC) which run the provinces. Under the powers provided by the Act, Sections 5 and 6 explain the duties and obligations of each PPEC in relation to agricultural activities and animal wealth respectively. Section 5, Article 9, gives the PPEC the rights to administer and develop forestry; similarly, Section 6, Articles 1 - 10, explain PPEC activities for the promotion and development of animal wealth. It is clear that such activities are mostly developmental and clearly fail to discuss or stress protection and conservation. In addition, each local council has permanent committees, including committees for land-use and for animal wealth, established to exercise the powers and duties of the council provided by the Act. Village and nomadic camp councils can have up to 18 permanent committees to look after and promote local activities. Since such committees do not have clear administrative authority and since arbitration is not part of their functions, their role in supervising the present use of resources will be greatly handicapped. Furthermore, the Act discouraged the participation by the traditional leadership (mostly leaders of the displaced native administration) in new government organizations, at least until very recently. The ousting antagonized these powerful and very influential leaders, eventually turning them against the functioning of the new system of government (el-Arifi, 1978).

New Environmental Relationships and the 1971 Act

The mission that prepared the Sudan's Desert Encroachment Control and Rehabilitation Programme reported that "desert encroachment in the Sudan is a man-made phenomenon caused by such land-misuse pressures as overgrazing, irrational cultivation, wood cutting and deforestation, uprooting shrubs for fuel, lowering of water-tables due to increased water use, and burning of grasslands, forests, and shrubs"(Sudan, Ministry of Agriculture ...,1976)

There is no doubt that such malpractices are not new to the Sudan, but were formerly dealt with and managed at local levels. Some of these malpractices have become acute in recent times under increased land-use pressure in precarious semi-arid environments with unpredictable and highly variable rainfall. Pressures on resources are either local or external. Internal pressures due to increases in human and animal populations increase demands on unimproved environments, which in turn lead to competition for natural resources. The effects of competition to fulfil needs become cumulative and lead to intensification of misuse of the land. For example, pastoral nomads extend and alter their migration routes, which bring them into conflict with others, and consciously overstock to guard against uniforme seen consequences. In recent times many desert nomads have been pushing southwards into more humid areas. For example, the Zagawa, Kawahla, and Kababish have extended their southern movements into the region of the Baggara (cattle) nomads.

Internal pressures have also been created by uncoordinated, poorly conceived, or badly implemented projects. Such projects produce new carrying capacities and, in the absence of livestock off-take marketing mechanisms, fail to accommodate overstocking and therefore set the stage for new misuse relationships.

For example, the provision of water supplies to rural areas is generally effected in isolation from other economy improvement programmes. The lack of co-ordination between water supply and pasture management and improvement will eventually reduce the utility of watering points. Other poorly conceived programmes include primary education programmes which are very urban in their orientation and outlook for nomadic areas. The best example of such a poorly implemented programme is to be found at Gerih el-Sarha in northwestern North Kordofan Province. The conceptual framework of settling nomads using their available resources without switching them to farming is in itself acceptable, but because of uncoordinated planning and problems in implementation, the Gerih el-Sarha Settlement Scheme failed to achieve its objectives.

External or non-rural demands can also create serious pressures, particularly for wood fuel and livestock products. The annual per capita consumption of wood fuel has increased from 1.62 m³ to 2.00 m³ between 1962 and 1976/77 (Mukhtar, 1978). This per capita consumption varies among different regions of the Sudan. It is highest, reaching 2.80 m³, in the arid and semi-arid areas where most of the urban population of the Sudan resides (elBushra, 1972). With the existing high urban population growth rates and the persistent use of wood as a source of energy and heating, it is evident that wood-cutting must increase proportionally to meet the rising urban demands. For example, in Khartoum, Nile, Northern, Kassala, and Red Sea Provinces, the estimated total wood consumption for 1976-77 was 11.03 million m³ while the estimated annual allowable quantity was 2.70 million m³. it is estimated that these provinces receive about 4 million m³ from other source areas, and the fuel deficit of at least 5 million m³ is made up from meagre local sources (Mukhtar, 1978).

Again, urban demands for beef and mutton are higher than in rural areas. The annual per capita consumption of mutton is estimated at 13.5 kg, four times that of rural areas, and that of beef is estimated at 26.5 kg in urban areas and 10.5 kg in rural areas. Since almost all the urban demand is supplied by producers from the traditional sector, namely pastoral nomads, the function and the size of the herds are expected to change. This, in addition to other government services, has caused animal numbers to expand and multiply several times over. It is estimated that animal numbers increased four times between 1956 and 1966. By 1974 the Sudan had approximately 40.1 million head of livestock, mostly in western Sudan. Obviously, such increases must have their environmental impact.

The above-mentioned factors, in addition to the lack of knowledge of the consequences of environmental misuse, the indifferent attitudes of urban people, the lack of law and a competent agency to enforce it, and the failure of local government units created by the 19,71 Act to fill the vacuum produced by the liquidation of native administration, have all led to a misuse of resources leading to depletion of forests and pastures and soil exhaustion. In fact, on account of the shortcomings of the 1932 Forests Law, the Department of Forests has recommended a new law which will soon be promulgated. But the department is short of personnel and funds to carry out any effective afforestation programmes or protection measures (el-Rasheed, 1975).

From the previous discussion, it is clear that the 1971 People's Local Government Act has weakened authority at lower levels, creating a vacuum for the supervision of resource-use according to laws or traditional custom. The power to protect and guide annual use, punish, or arbitrate vanished. The end-result is that people use resources in a manner that fits their immediate needs as influenced by the internal or external forces mentioned above.

Judging from the various government reports on the problems that face effective administration and the use of resources in rural areas, it is evident that the Act is an urban innovation alien to the general framework of rural society, culture, traditions, and institutions. It may be quite adequate for the needs of the urban areas, and may fit the ideology of the urban-based Sudan Socialist Union. However it is not adequate nor responsive to local needs for maintaining an equilibrium between a precarious environment and a traditional society formerly protected by the presence of local authority under native administration. In the absence of this authority and under the diffused power structure of the Act, the use of the environment has become unpredictable and highly uncontrolled.

Conclusions and Suggestions for Future Research

(1) Innovations in developing traditional societies should be viewed within their socio-cultural economic needs and adapt to prevailing man-environment relationships.
(2) Similarly, the traditional points of view should be incorporated into any innovation, whether it be an eco nomic stimulus or a law.
(3) From the above brief survey, it is evident that the 1971 people's Local Government Act has many environmental failings. Above all, it is unable to perform the regulatory and protective functions of the abolished traditional native system of administration.
(4) Because of this failure, environmental problems resulting from misuse of the land are beyond the abilities of institutions. There is no doubt that the existing system of local government will require reforms until more capable organizations emerge. Other programmes of improvement, implemented in isolation from the required reforms in the system of local government, are also doomed to fail.
(5) Resource management and use are bound by cultural institutions, whether local or imposed from outside. The People's Local Government Act is an external factor which has had many consequences for the management, use, and utilization of natural resources in the Sudan. Future research should focus on the new relationships produced by the Act and test the performance of the administrative organs and institutions created for the protection, conservation, and proper use of resources in rural Sudan.


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