Due to limitations of length, it focuses particularly on the experiences in western, central and, to a lesser extent, eastern subregions of the continent. Particular emphasis is given to the divergence between the forest as a provider of means to rural people and governance mechanisms that have predominantly focused on national economic activities and political priorities. The paper considers where the forests are, the main differences among them, their main uses and value to African people, and the main changes in their extent and condition. It summarises some of the key features and issues concerning African forest ownership and user rights. It considers issues and challenges around the state of knowledge of the continent’s forests, describing several ‘forest paradigms’ that have played an important role in setting the current, or emerging, context for forest governance. The role of some of the key stakeholders in forest governance systems is considered, firstly addressing the ‘problem’ of local stakeholders, and then providing several short case studies of how political intervention by senior decision makers, or outright corruption and graft, have both undermined proper governance and marginalised other stakeholders. Recent trends in the development of forest policies and legal frameworks are described, and the key issue of the decentralisation of forest governance is discussed.
SAIIA sincerely thanks those who acted as peer reviewers for this paper.