Three plane rides and a car ride later, it is night time when I reach II Plateau Cocody, my home for the next three months. The first thing I thought when I got out of the car was that this city reminds me of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where I lived for 9 years.
I quickly realized this was not Port-au-Prince as I looked across the city at the sky scrapers and high rises. My driver, turned to me and said, “they call Abidjan the Manhattan of Africa”. I smiled, but suddenly I was a little nervous. I began to wonder whether I would truly get a taste of Africa in a city so developed. My heart settled a bit when we passed organization after organization aimed at development.
The next morning, I woke up with the sun at around 6 a.m. (absolutely by accident for had I known that jetlag would hit me like a ton of bricks later that day, I would have remained in bed where I belonged). I walked around the apartment trying to organize things and eventually gave up when I realized that I would likely just be living out of my suitcase. I eventually settled on business professional (not the best idea in 95 ˚F weather!).
MACA Prison Visit
My boss walks out of a meeting and into the office. “Are you interested in a prison visit?” AM I? I wanted to scream! But I did not. Instead, I calmly responded yes. During the car ride, he explained that the ProJustice Program is exclusively dealing with the judiciary and that prisons themselves were outside of our jurisdiction. However, we would be visiting to understand their needs in terms of technology and administration and our expert would be presenting his results to the Ministry of Justice.
MACA houses both men and women. Designed for a capacity of approximately 1500, it currently holds 5,000 prisoners. The prison was clearly lacking in simple technologies. The need for more computers was obvious as one of the workers pointed out that the registry of prisoners was all copiously handwritten in large notebooks. The lists of freed prisoners from as early as the 1950’s were sitting on a shelf. Over time, these registries could be lost, pages eaten by rats and covered by dust—resulting in incomplete information on the state of prisons.
I learned later that the pilot courts that ProJustice is currently supporting, face similar issues. I am looking forward to learning more about the courts and developing a better understanding of the work that ProJustice is actually doing. One thing is certain: I am absolutely thrilled to be here and to learn about the Ivorian legal system.