Formal and Informal Cooperation Enforcement in the Management of the Commons

In managing the commons, the danger lies on relying on the formal instruments while ignoring the informal instruments of management. In a society such as Kenya where the formal structures of management may seem to be very costly to the government, the informal management would come in handy. In this case, the insiders may be able to form monitoring mechanisms over the efficient use of the common of all the users. Punishment modes would entail being shamed by other members of the community whenever one uses the common over and above the efficient use. For example in a common pasture, since everyone is concerned about overgrazing, it becomes incumbent on the individuals to ensure that they have their fair share of animals to graze in that grazing field. Incase the individual decides to have more than the efficient number of animals, he or she is taxed for it. Alternatively where there is a forest to be harvested, the insiders monitor the harvesting actions of the other users. Incase the outsiders are defined very well then as a protection device to avoid their encroachment, clear policies will have to be formulated as far as trespassing is concerned.  Tresspassing from outsiders in most cases increases uncertainty about the harvesting levels of the insiders and introduces complicated dynamics in the insiders’ equilibrium.

Informal cooperative enforcement mechanism has several weaknesses. Incase we have an adamant powerful insider who just refuses to cooperate with the others, this may in the long run put a great dent in the cooperative strategy.  On the other hand if protection from outsiders appropriation is weak then this would have several effects on various structures of the management of the common such as; community building, information gathering and  sharing, coordination and appropriate positive or negative rewards arising from cooperation or non cooperation.

When an inside group is defined well then there should be some form of restricted mobility in and out of the group. When this is done well the care for the common can thus be guaranteed and haphazard decisions over the common may be reduced. Take for example a decision to sell a common in one of the newly created counties in Kenya because the county needs to settle some obligations. Where insiders are not involved, a decision like this would be completed fast without exploring other possible means to address the problem at hand. However insiders, caring for their common, would try to protect the common and explore any other available way to deal with the problem at hand. On the other hand if the problem is such huge, the community as a whole can decide to sell their common. It is not only when solving problems that commons are sold. It may be in a case where the investment envisaged could be of greater benefit to the community.

In most of the Kenyan society today, the informal structures are not as powerful as they ought to be. For example the Chief’s Act which is Cap 168 and Local Government Act Cap 265 are presumed admissible in the administrative areas of operation. So far, several legal instruments have little reference to the commons and hence there is a need where written rules of the future are seen as a coordination device in this arena. The devices should help in the procedures for collective deliberation, legal procedures and court verdicts. It would therefore important that communities enact charters that would protect their commons. Commons in this case could mean forests, cultural places, public parks, common grazing fields, natural places etc. It has to be noted that the bigger the community the more difficult it is to adopt a common charter as it involves many interests. On the other hand it is also difficult to rely on informal mechanisms to manage the commons. Building a charter (legal instruments) therefore is like creating a public good seen in the form of a solution to a community problem.

Lastly, the punishment institution should not bear so much a great social loss. It is important however that their economic losses be heavy so as to reduce the incidences of repeat offenses and enhance cooperation in promoting a responsible usage of the common. Punishments should be seen as not being wasteful but a transfer of resources, which could be used in the long run to repair the damage done to the common resource. Any punishment that causes physical injury such as mob justice where the punisher becomes a criminal  should be avoided.


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