In Mali a Village Chief holds his position for life. Every village has a Village Chief. A Village Chief gets his position through inheritance. The male lineage to which he belongs can often be traced back to the founding family of the villages and to warriors of the earlier pre-colonialised West African empires. There are cases were families have been chosen by the colonial authorities to replace existing ruling families thereby facilitating and re-enforcing colonial influence and power over the villages. This has impacted on the development of villages up to the present day, mainly by establishing a new order by force and sowing conflict for future generations to come.
Village chiefs are usually elected by the heads of the households in the village, all male. Women do not participate in the election of a village chief. Although the role of the village chief is an extremely important one, he does not represent a village and he is not accountable for a village as a whole. If there is unity in a village depends to a great deal on the personality of a village chief but also on the history of the village and what role it plays today in the modern Malian society.
Additionally each village can be divided into committees, or groups of people, such a the youth including men from 18 to 50 years, the elders, usually all men over 50 and the women, including women over eighteen years of age.
The objective of participatory development processes is to re-dress and rectify the mistakes and failures made by top down centralized development strategies. In this sense Village Chiefs and the rural councils of local governance structures are often chosen to represent the local population and the villages in participatory development processes.
Especially for nature conservation and natural resources management project chiefs, and the clan of elders are desirable representatives because they manage the local resources in a given area.
Each and every decision in participatory development planning In Nara had to be run via the Villages Chiefs.
Given the complexity of this system it is easy to get an idea how much complexity it added to development work and community decision-making and control of resources and turn on the implementation of the so-called participatory strategies.