Sheikh Haroun, a community leader from the village of Traige, is well aware that one of the root causes of violent conflict in his region is competition over limited, local natural resources. That’s why he appreciates the Near East Foundation’s efforts to foster legally binding agreements, known as Land Use Conventions, among the residents of eight clusters of villages in western and central Darfur. “For quite a long time before the Near East Foundation’s involvement, our community used traditional consensus building methods,” he says. “But the vast majority of the previous pacts were ineffective, and people failed to comply with their statutes.”
The Near East Foundation’s two-year Resources, Economic Stability, and Peace (RESP) initiative—financed by UNDP-Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund— utilizes the Land Use Conventions model to help bring order and predictability to situations where competition and opposing interests often lead to disputes. The convention articles, which are vetted by legal advisors to ensure compliance with Sudanese national legal systems, establish natural resource management rules, rights, and enforcement mechanisms with the aim of managing shared resources profitably and sustainably. These principles, which represent a hybrid of traditional (community-level) authority/rule systems and modern (state-level) rules and authorities, include governing access to water and pasture land, penalties for crop damage, and procedures for assisting the enforcement of such state laws as limitations on tree cutting.
Drawing upon their extensive regional experience, Near East Foundation (NEF) staff members encourage the participation of all concerned parties (government agencies, farmers, nomadic herders, women, youth, etc.) in order to build mutual trust and to acknowledge that peaceful and sustainable management of natural resources is in everyone’s interest. NEF’s team in Mali has been instrumental in developing Land Use Conventions that are now used routinely in many parts of Africa. In fact, the Mali staff came to Darfur and shared their technical expertise while working with the local Conflict Assessment Teams, NEF-Sudan staff, partner organizations, and government officials to draft the conventions for the Zalingei, Traige, and Azoum village clusters.
According to Ishaaq, a participant in the local land use convention process in the western Darfur village of Delaige, NEF’s efforts are timely and facilitate an important understanding among community members about the natural resource management challenges their region faces. “I’m elated about the conventions,” Ishaaq says.” Something had to be done to raise awareness here about the depletion and mismanagement of our natural resources.”
Land Use Conventions have the additional benefit of helping local residents systematically protect and preserve the environment in Darfur, which has been adversely affected by global climate change. Rudwan, a respected elder and participant in the convention process in the village of Nertiti, urges his fellow community members to honor the conventions. “This area you see around us used to be a lush jungle, home to a wide variety of animals, but now it’s desert and all of the wild life have vanished, “ he says. “Thankfully, we now have a Land Use Convention. Please honor this commitment, and do not breach any of its articles!”
Sheikh Haroun, Ishaaq, Rudwan, and other beneficiaries of the program, want the world to know that, despite the ongoing challenges of operating in Darfur, the Near East Foundation’s distinctive approach is facilitating significant progress toward peace and prosperity. As one village council representative from Zalingei noted, “We’ve made substantial gains through the RESP project. Many organizations work on natural resource management, but it is we who now have land use conventions. We consider this truly a success story because of the Near East Foundation.”