Community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) was introduced in Benin in the early 1990s. Because of the initially positive results, the Forest Department decided to continue and scale up this participatory approach to all Benin's protected areas. Focusing on the relationships between the actors involved, this paper seeks to explain the dynamics of the participatory management process in the Ouémé Supérieur and N'Dali forests in Northern Benin. The analysis is based on data gathered from interviews with the different actors involved. The study shows that social cohesion between people involved in CBNRM, the Forest Rangers and local communities was built at the beginning of the process, but then disappeared and was followed by conflict. Stakeholders interpreted and made sense of formally declared participatory management rules (formal institutions) and gradually developed informal relationships, rules and routines (informal institutions) that facilitated the collaboration process and resulted in social cohesion. Conflicts and distrust emerged when replacement CBNRM officers did not respect the informal rules of conduct. The case shows that it is the state of informal rules and relationships that determines the success of a collaborative process rather than formally declared institutions; hence this should be recognized.
- social cohesion
- urban governance