Weex Dunx Film Background by Ribot

I began working on forestry policy in Senegal in 1986 when colonial forestry policies were still in force. Little had changed in the forestry sector since Senegal’s independence in 1961. Forest based villagers had only rights to use non-commercially valuable forest products (usufruct rights) from surrounding forests. Meanwhile urban-based commercial producers held all rights over lucrative commercial opportunities.

The most valuable product from Senegal’s forests is charcoal. Charcoal, produced by the partial burning of wood, is harvested and produced in the forests and then transported to the capital city for use as domestic cooking fuel. Charcoal production, transport and sale are controlled by a small group of merchants—based in Dakar and in other small towns on the road from the forests to Dakar. These merchants have been able to control the sector through professional licenses allocated by the forest service and a national charcoal production quota that the national forest service in Dakar estimates every year and allocates to the privileged merchants who hold professional licenses. Once allocated their charcoal quotas each year, these merchants are able to obtain woodcutting permits for their migrant laborers (mostly from neighboring Guinea) whom they then send out into the forests to cut wood and produce charcoal. When the charcoal is ready, the merchants come with their trucks, exchange their quota for a transport permit and are then able to carry their product to the market in Dakar. In this manner, forestry laws have locked up control over forestry sector profits in the hands of a few very wealthy merchants. Forest villagers are excluded from the labor of production and from the profits of trade.

The charcoal quota set annually by the national forest service has no relation to either the potential of the forests nor is it linked to consumption. It therefore has neither an ecological function nor a role in guaranteeing urban supply. Indeed, according to all available surveys estimating consumption, the quota being fixed to this day at roughly half of the consumption of the city of Dakar alone. There are other cities consuming charcoal in Senegal, while minor in comparison to Dakar, the implication is that much of the trade in charcoal must be illegal. Since demand is being met yet the quota—which is supposed to equal supply—is well below demand, the difference between the quota and demand must be occurring through illegal channels. Indeed, it is. Most of the production that is above and beyond the quota enters Dakar as excess loads on the trucks with circulation permits or as charcoal confiscated from ‘illegal’ producers in the forests and then sold to licensed merchants or to truckers. In short, even the ‘illegal’ production is channeled through the forest service to a select and wealthy group of urban merchants.

In 1993 Senegal’s national assembly promulgated a new ‘participatory’ forestry code. This participatory code was designed to allow forest villagers to participate in the labor of production. This code allowed elected Rural Councils to participate in forest exploitation if they engaged in a series of arduous—and useless, in the minds of most rural people—forest management activities. Under this arrangement, when they had produced charcoal under these costly conditions, they could then sell to the already licensed merchants at low forest edge prices. But, if the Rural Council was not willing to engage in the odium of management, the code provide that the forest service could continue to allocate their forests to licensed merchants and their migrant laborers—who were not required to engage in any management activities. So, the choice given the elected local authorities was 1) participate in forest management and gain access to labor opportunities in production, or 2) the forests will be given to the merchants and cut out from under you. Further, since the merchants and their migrants did not have to bear the costs of managements, the forest villages and Rural Councils representing them could not really compete in this market. The 1993 policy was a failure. The forest villagers and Rural Councils did not jump to engage in participatory corvée.

In 1996, Senegal passed a national law that decentralized numerous functions to the elected local councils. Management of natural resources was transferred to the forests under this decentralization law. The forest service was forced to revise the forestry laws to be in conformity to the decentralization laws. This new ‘decentralized’ forestry code was promulgated by the national assembly on 21 February 1998. The new code did transfer real powers to the Rural Council. It required that the quota be based on the potential of the forest of each Rural Community (the jurisdiction presided over by the elected Rural Council). It required the elimination of the quota with three years (by 21 February 2001), and it gave the Rural Councils the right to allocate commercial opportunities in forestry. The 1998 code stated that before any commercial production could take place in the forest of a Rural Community, the signature of the president of the Rural Council is required. But, as the film shows, these new progressive policies were never implemented.

The film Weex Dunx and the Quota grew out of a recent three-year research program conducted by WRI, CODESRIA and CIRAD in Senegal. At the end of the research period, the research team organized a national policy dialogue at which we were to present our results. But, I felt that I did not just want to get up in front of the invited forest service, ministry of environment, ministry of local development, ministry of interior, civil society and donor audience to tell them once again that their policies were not being implemented, corruption was rife, and that their activities were undermining the development of local democracy in Senegal. So, it occurred to me that humor and irony would be a better tact. Based on this idea, I sketched out a play based on the findings of the research. The story is based on extensive interviews throughout the production region. I then hired a theatre troop and we got to work on production.

The dialogue in the play was developed interactively with the actors. It was, however, based on quotes from the interviews in the field. The Rural Community of Nambaradougou is a composite of several Rural Communities in the Tambacounda Region of Senegal. The Rural Council President, Weex Dunx is a composite of several Rural Council Presidents. Everything in this play did happen. It happened frequently throughout the region. Indeed, there was only one Rural Council president of the 15 interviewed who signed without resistance. By and large, the populations of the production zones do not want production taking place at all. They do not want their forests cut and carbonized to supply Dakar. The councilors are mostly against production. While Weex Dunx and the Quota is a simplified version of the story, the story is designed to depict to the Forest Service and the Ministries in Senegal some of the effects of Forest Service actions.

The play was performed in at the national policy dialogue in Dakar in May 2006. The audience laughed and seemed to enjoy it. Afterwards there was an uncomfortable silence. We then broke for coffee. During the coffee break and later in the afternoon, several rural councilors told me that the play captured their experience. No Forest Service agent commented on the play. During the presentations and discussions in the rest of the day, the play was not mentioned. But, many of the issues around the quota and the effects of current practice on local representation did come up in discussion. The next day we decided to make the play into a film and spent the next two days filming. This film will eventually show in Senegal’s national television followed by a discussion with the Forest Service Director. It will be shown also in Eastern Senegal where charcoal production is taking place. The policy effects of this film will unfold with time. It was not an immediate hit—everything happening in the film is already well known by the foresters. Revealing the practices does not make for more transparency—they are already transparent to those involved. The hope is that it will be viewed by citizens, civil society organization, other ministries and donors and will produce a positive debate on the links between practices in the forestry sector and broader governance policy and practice in Senegal.

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