Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Exporting Western Law to the Developing World: The Troubling Case of Niger

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Exporting Western Law to the Developing World: The Troubling Case of Niger

Article excerpt


In recent decades the West1 has imposed on the Developing World the so-called Washington Consensus (Consensus), a package of policy reforms that, if implemented properly, is supposed to propel poor countries toward First World prosperity.2 In the United States, popular accounts of the Consensus focus on its economic policies and their social consequences. The Consensus holds that Western countries and the financial institutions they control-most notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-insist that a given poor country implement policies of privatization and trade liberalization. The poor country's government, having little choice in the matter, begins to comply with these "structural adjustment" initiatives, which leads to protests and general social unrest when the citizenry realizes, among other things, that the price of bread has doubled overnight.3

But there is another important aspect of Consensus reform that is rarely discussed in Western popular press-one that has the potential to create at least as much social unrest as economic policies: legal reform. The Washington Legal Consensus4 maintains that poor countries must reshape their legal systems to make them compatible with Western conceptions of law and justice. If they do not, the Consensus argues that they will fail to attract trade and investment, unable to achieve the long-term prosperity made possible by the Consensus economic reforms.5

Scholars who have scrutinized the Washington Legal Consensus have found much to criticize.6 Some abhor that Consensus reformers impose new laws and legal concepts after only minimal consul- tation with the affected populations.7 Others find it troubling that educated elites within poor countries tend to use Consensus legal reforms to consolidate their economic and political power.8 Many observe that the anticipated economic benefits of legal reform rarely materialize.9 Few scholars, however, have offered a detailed look at how the Washington Legal Consensus actually affects the lives of ordinary people living there.

This Article will attempt to fill that gap by examining the particular case of Niger, an especially poor and isolated country that is in the midst of Consensus-inspired law reform. It will describe the law that most contemporary Nigériens rely on to resolve their day-today disputes, concluding that Consensus-mandated legal reforms grounded in liberal Western conceptions of law and justice are so fundamentally different from the law and justice that Nigérien people live by day-to-day that the attempt at abrupt reform will cause significant social dislocation.

A. Organization of the Paper

On the theory that most readers are unfamiliar with traditional Nigérien law, this Article will begin in Part II with a descriptive example of its law, leaving an analysis of that law for later. Part III will provide a summary description of the Washington Legal Consensus and its application in Niger. Part IV will furnish the reader with the necessary background on Niger, including a general description of its law from the opposite perspectives of Niger's government and its ordinary citizens. Because the law that most Nigériens live by is inexorably connected with their history and religion, those topics will also be discussed. In Part V, this Article will turn towards legal ethnography, illustrating concrete examples of the magic-infused, spiritually influenced, traditional law that the majority of Niger's people live by, as well as highlighting some of the fundamental differences between this law and that which the Washington Legal Consensus seeks to impose. Part VI concludes the Article by positing that trouble is in store for Niger if it continues to follow its current Consensus-mandated path and suggests some alternative approaches that could facilitate the development of Niger's legal system without throwing the country into economic turmoil. …

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