Violation of a local convention by a rural council on the grounds of ethnicity, corruption and lack of clear-sightedness

In the context of re-enforcing decentralisation in Senegal, a certain number of laws saw the light of day in 1996 to give what is commonly called the code of local communities. This code established the principle free administration of local communities and recognised certain activities at each administrative level. Activities of rural communities included deliberation on the 'general plan on land occupation, development projects, housing estates, equipment for the areas allocated to housing as well as authorisation for installing housing or encampments' and on the 'allocation and de-allocation of land of national heritage'. In Senegal, if one needs a reminder, the rural community is the primordial community. It is generally inhabited by a rural population essentially involved in crop and cattle farming. In other words, the importance of the input of the rural community on the question of land is not without foundation.

Pata is a vast rural community of 1060 km² in Southern Senegal. This region, also called Le Fouladou, is essentially a Peulh region. The Peulhs constitute, in terms of numbers, the second largest ethnic group in Senegal after the Wolofs.

Pata is unusual in that, as well as being Peulh, it is inhabited by a large community of Wolof crop farmers. The latter migrated from Saloum, a region in Central Senegal, looking for agricultural land.

This cohabitation between crop farmers and cattle farmers was in essence a source of conflict and tension. On the one hand, the Peulh community complained about the action of Wolofs who always cleared more land to meet their need for acreage. According to the Peulhs, this 'colonisation' by Wolofs who 'came from elsewhere' destroyed their pastures. On the other hand, the Wolofs reproached the Peulhs of releasing their herds onto their peanut fields, thus causing considerable damage. Therefore the two communities glared at each other and often pitched battles ensued. These scuffles continued and were all the more passionate because they led to the loss of human life on both sides.

Faced with such a situation of violence and mutual incomprehension, a dialogue was started between all the ethnic components of the rural community. To prevent further conflicts it was decided that henceforth rural council decisions concerning authorisation of land ownership would be taken with the agreement of the different communities, through their representatives. This rule has therefore become part of local convention. It is precisely this local convention, this consensus, which was breached by the rural council.

Indeed, in 1998 regrettable and tragic events occurred between the two villages of Saré Halèle and Sinthiang Bora, two villages in Pata's rural community. Saré Halèle, a village approximately twenty kilometres from Pata was created before Sinthiang Bora, a Peul village. After occupying these lands for years, the inhabitants of Saré Halèle watched those from the present Sinthiang Bora install themselves on the sly. Warnings were given to them to leave the area, arguing that it was impossible to share the land, already too small, with another community.

In response to these repeated warnings, the new arrivals obtained authorisation to occupy the land in question, duly provided for them by the rural council. Frustrated and with their pride hurt by the attitude of the rural council which had just violated a 'local law', the villagers of Saré Halèle opposed the installation of Sinthiang Bora inhabitants who were preparing their land in anticipation of the first rains. Scuffles broke out with tragic results affecting both communities, who blamed each other for the clashes.

Nothing came of it. The sub-prefect's intervention clashed with the stubbornness of the rural council who claimed to be autonomous and the only body competent to solve problems of land occupation. This tension between cattle farming and crop farming spread very rapidly throughout the district, becoming a powder trail.


Samba Coumba MBAYE is the President of the youth club of Hamdallah Samba Mbaye.

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