Global phenomena such as nationalism, extremism and xenophobia are related today to discourses on autochthony and citizenship. Given current processes of democratisation and economic liberalisation, and the scarcity of natural resources, interaction between people of diverse origins is becoming increasingly violent. In West Africa, the declining resource base and power relations are important factors in conflicts between different communities. Many outbreaks of violence are caused by attempts on the part of ‘autochthons’ to safeguard ‘ancestral lands’ against ‘newcomers’ accused of overusing this patrimony. This seems paradoxical at a time of political and socio-economic change, when official discourse invites national and regional integration. The present article draws on studies carried out in West Africa between 2002 and 2007. Data extracted from various individual studies on institutions concerned with natural resource management, livelihood and territory, and negotiated statehood were compiled, analysed and discussed in two interdisciplinary meetings involving researchers from many scientific backgrounds. Focusing on pastoralism and access to land, this article aims to demonstrate that management institutions are eroded in a context of resource scarcity, and that certain groups build discourse and strategies on fuzzy notions of nationhood or identity in order to exclude other users. In this process, the notion of autochthony appears to be an ideological tool in the hands of native people, used to combat social malaise and difficulty in sustaining a livelihood in a context of global development. W that in a context of ‘presence-absence’ of the state, negotiations between various stakeholders at different levels could foster sustainable development.