Fellow Since 1995
Centro De Estudios Multidisciplinarios Aymara
This profile was prepared when Carlos Mamani was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Carlos Mamani works to restore, strengthen and reinforce the ayllu, a system of governance and social interaction applied by three million people, 40 percent of Bolivia's indigenous population. Predating the Inca conquest, ayllu communities are still a way of life in Bolivia's Altiplano, the highlands among the peaks of the Andes. Settlements are based on watersheds, which are networks with natural and logical boundaries. All lands are held by the community and, except for small garden plots, land allocation decisions are made communally. Most of the community's work is done cooperatively. Leadership rotates among families. Decisions about water use, food production and education are made by this rotating authority. Carlos is teaching the people who live in ayllus how to evolve them into official local authorities. There is a strong political tide in Bolivia in support of the formation of local governments, in the hope that they will more effectively address the country's poverty than their national counterparts have. In 1995 the Congress enacted the Popular Participation Act, which provides mechanisms for municipalities to set their own priorities and secure funds directly from the government; as a result, in less than two years, the number of municipalities in the country has grown from 21 to 311. The Act provides that officially recognized indigenous groups may also participate along with municipalities. The law has provided an opening for them to secure a degree of legitimacy they have not enjoyed for 500 years of colonial rule. But the Act was created for municipalities, in the language of their bureaucracy, and there remains the arduous task of creating mechanisms to implement its potential in the ayllus. Carlos has devised mechanisms to take what already existed in the ayllu, even though it operated outside the political system, and strengthen it so it can meld with the other existing political structures. He is building a sense of identity and self-respect within the ayllu communities while he teaches them how to become consistent with Bolivia's legal and political system. He envisions the ayllu, the trade unions and the political parties all working together within Bolivia's constitutional government, based on acknowledgment that the ayllu are of value and must have a place in the republic.