E-conference discussions focused on two participatory approaches: participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and the use of video. This orientation resulted from the information that conferees made available to stimulate discussions. The discussions on PRA were based on the experiences of various researchers, but most of the input came from a training and field research session on PRA and rapid rual appraisal (RRA) held in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Gabon (Freudenberger, 10 April 1996). The information regarding the use of video as a communication tool was based on the Ngorongoro Case, a summary of which is provided below.
From the work on PRA, the investigators examined the dynamics of resource conflicts, some of the causal factors, and dispute resolution procedures at both the community and state level. The research was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of six to eight government officials, NGO representatives, African university researchers and expatriate academics. The intention of the research effort was to conduct case studies of representative tenure situations found in different agro-ecological zones of a country as part of government and donor strategies to determine how government policy might respond to tenure insecurity, resource conflicts and ineffectual national land legislation.
The RRA/PRA tools were seen as very useful for learning more about the dynamics, causes and consequences of resource conflicts provided that the objectives of the fieldwork are clearly oriented towards this end. The teams needed to invest considerable time in conflict research and analysis to do justice to the issue. It takes time and considerable diplomatic finesse to explore with rural communities the sensitive and delicate issues of resource conflicts. It is easy to underestimate how much time it takes to explore adequately the origins and dynamics of resource conflicts.
The researchers stressed the importance of the appropriate timing to discuss natural resource conflicts. This is especially true when rural communities view conflicts as negative expressions of social disunity and thus seek to hide or minimize the importance of internal disputes. Community members can also be fearful to express concerns about conflicts with outside agents like government or NGOs. Thus, teams must first build confidence and trust with hosts to permit discussion and dialogue on the sources of conflicts and conflict resolution mechanisms. PRA tools are very effective ways of doing this since they incite in-depth discussions, sharing of confidences, and often much amusement and laughter among all parties.
Discussions regarding the conflict realm are then started about half way through the village visit by carefully introducing the subject and explaining that conflicts are a natural occurrence within communities and among people, and by clearly specifying the objective - to understand the unique and innovative ways that the particular village employs to resolve conflicts. The community members should be made to feel comfortable with the objective of the team, which should clearly state its intentions.
One of the advantages of the PRA tools is that they are useful in revealing the various innovative mechanisms that have been created to resolve community conflicts. For example, the research team found that in one Gambian village, respected elders from several ethnic groups meet weekly to resolve successfully the enormous number of conflicts that arise in a community characterized by transient traders and black-marketers from many different ethnic groups. In a village along the Niger River in Guinea, serious conflicts beyond the jurisdiction of the home village are taken to a host village for resolution by its elders. The relationship is reciprocal. Through PRA the researchers were able to appreciate the role of district tribunals in Gambia in dealing on an informal basis with a wide array of historically-rooted conflicts and the role of the Islamic Leagues in resolving conflicts over land, trees and water resources in the Fouta Jallon of Guinea.
Another advantage of the PRA approach is that by having a multidisciplinary team, there is the opportunity for government participants on the teams to understand the complexity of rural conflicts, often caused by inappropriate government policy and legislation. For example, few government officials had spent significant time exploring the causes and consequences of rural conflicts linked to tenure insecurity. Also, in a number of cases, villagers have used the opportunity provided by the PRA to establish long-term relations and friendships with government and academic `outsiders' to help generate development projects and resolve conflicts between different parties.
A carefully designed PRA process can also break many of the taboos regarding the discussion of resource conflicts in public forums. For instance, in Guinea, the research team described the origins and dynamics of resource conflicts in regional conferences attended by representatives of government, farmers groups, NGOs and academic centres. To the amazement of many, this broke the silence regarding many rural inequities long suffered by rural populations and permitted quite open and honest discussions of needed policy reforms.
One of the weaknesses of the PRA approach is that the teams usually can not go into enough depth. Thus, from an academic perspective, the research is rightly criticized by some for being too superficial. Long-term and in-depth research by anthropologists, rural sociologists, geographers and political scientists does indeed uncover much more in-depth information, though at a high cost in terms of time. However, the PRA approach is suitable when the researchers are faced with time and financial constraints. Also, inappropriate use of the tools associated with PRA can cause certain latent conflicts to surface. If the objective of the researcher is not to address these latent conflicts, this can result in additional problems.
Video is another means of addressing natural resource conflicts. A specific case is that of the Ngorongoro Crater Area, a summary of which follows. The Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti plains have been areas of great interest for conservationists because of their unusual variety and density of plains wildlife. Increasing interest to conserve the area resulted in the banning in 1954 of all cultivation in the Serengeti National Park (which includes both the Serengeti plains, the Ngorongoro crater and adjacent plains). This affected the Masai who had began cultivating grains in the park area to supplement their pastoral diet. Through a series of developments, the park was split into two areas: one retained the original name and is exclusively a wildlife area; and a second that became a multiple land use area, called the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). Negotiations and subsequent agreements with (some) Masai leaders led to the Masai withdrawing (some Masai suggest that they were expelled) from what is now called the Serengeti National Park and settling in the NCA.
Various management plans were drawn up for the NCA, in which discussions over cultivation continued. Efforts were made to provide pastoralists with a secure supply of grain and other commodities in their villages so that they would not cultivate in the NCA. In 1980, new efforts were made to draft a management plan for the area. The team involved in the development of this plan included members of the Masai, members of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) and international communities. This plan was only partly funded and never approved or made public. It is on the basis of this plan that the most recent General Management Plan (GMP) was developed. During the course of the development of this plan, certain development agencies of the Nordic countries entered the scene to assist in finalizing the plan and providing general support for the NCAA. During the development of the GMP, modalities for modest subsistence cultivation were worked out in a participatory manner and the existing ban on cultivation was waived.
The NCAA, working in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), circulated the GMP hoping to receive public comments on the management plan prior to submitting it to the board of the NCAA for approval. This plan was in English with summaries of the management plan in English and Kiswahili.
A member of the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP) together with a member of a local pastoral NGO were in the area researching the effectiveness of using video for documenting natural resource management regimes, indigenous knowledge and local innovations.
From exchanges with the Masai, one of the participants in the project concluded that the Masai felt their needs were not effectively represented during the formulation of the management plan. During the course of this project, the residents of the area `hijacked' the agenda and asked to use the medium of video to capture their opinion on the GMP The traditional village meetings were convened by elders to convey their opinions on the role of outsiders, the GMP and their rights.
The Ngorongoro Case presents two different levels of conflict. The first conflict results from the discontent of the local pastoralists in the 13 villages located within the NCA with the GMP and the second `conflict' stems from the response of different parties to the video used to present the local view of the GMP The issues that have surfaced because of these conflicts include the right to cultivate within the NCA; this falls within the broader context of conflicting interests (cultivation and conservation) in the same resource area, and the use of participatory approaches (Matiru and Chandrasekharan, 26 March 1996).
The general idea is that actors with different perceptions can communicate with video narratives that they produce themselves or that they at least take part in producing. Through playing back video representations in different settings, opportunities for reflection are created. This practice was developed some 30 years ago when video technology was still clumsy and expensive (Giltrow, 13 February 1996). Yet video is not commonly used in this way today. Today, such technology can be used to communicate local knowledge and perception. The video is seen as a good means to capture conflicting perspectives and present them in their true form. It was also stated that another positive element of the video was that for local people this can be another way to make themselves heard in addition to the protests and complaints they might make. A video allows one to capture emotions and concerns and interests as is seen in this quote from the video by Shinana ole Moinga from Endulen village:
"One thing amazes me. It seems the whole world is lacking sense and there is no one to point it out. Just look around - the parts of the world left with wildlife have pastoral people. Why do the `experts' and `guardians of the wild' come here after having failed to conserve trees and wildlife in their places of origin? They come here to support themselves. Do you really think they have come to these pastoral lands to protect something?
The world should come here to learn from us Masai how we take care of our land. Come and see that there are trees, there are cows and wildlife. They shouldn't come and say that they are managing us! Which world in the whole universe was created without trees or wild animals? Why should we, who have always had everything, be shown how to conserve?
There is no need to pay government employees to protect this land. It is the residents themselves who are most capable. All this money could have been used to help the rest of the world.
For example, since the Masai came out of the Serengeti, the place is now full of snares and traps to catch wildlife. Look at the Ngorongoro highlands - the rhinos were uncountable. But since the eviction of the Masai from the crater they have virtually disappeared.
The world should know that we are not people who eat the soil until it is finished. The world should learn from us how we Masai manage our lands. They shouldn't see us as destroyers of the land."
This quote shows that such a communication tool captures local sayings and idiomatic expressions, which in oral tradition is how wisdom, values and morals are conveyed. This tool has the potential to reveal hidden conflicts and show how to address them in their own context.
Concerns regarding the use of video as a means to communicate conflicts revolved around ethical issues, concerns regarding manipulation and misrepresentation of information through video since a process of making the video is not usually made transparent to the viewers, whether it can be maintained at the community level, accurate representation and the expense associated with such a practice. From the discussions, it is interesting to note that people were more critical of the use of video in highlighting a controversial issue than they were about using such a tool for training and capacity building.