With a week left to go, I am left with nostalgia when I think of leaving the city I spent the last 13 weeks living in. It turns out that Africa is much different than I had expected. I had based much of my expectation on what I saw in the media. I expected to find the world hunger commercials playing over and over again in real life. I also expected to find people apathetic to legal systems and corruption impeding any improvement and development.
Instead, I found a people thriving within an emerging country. "La emergence" is not only the Ivorian motto for success but it has become an entire way of life for the people of Côte d'Ivoire. Chief among development concerns has been a realization that the current legal system is inadequate and a desire to develop their legal system in accordance with human rights standards.
"Judicial Assistance", or legal aid is a topic that is often unheard of here but has been so well received. People become so excited to hear that such a program is being expanded to allow everyone lacking the means to sue or defend themselves in court. While this may seem small to some, it is crucial to the actual development of legal aid. It seems that the Ivorian mentality is being changed, which is often the first step to ensure real tangible change.
Back in the courtroom.
Today, I went to assist another hearing at the Tribunal du Plateau (downtown Abidjan). I watched the door to the courtroom open and two by two, handcuffed to each other, prisoners filed into the courtroom. Eventually, they were un-handcuffed and were told to sit on the floor. Aside from the evident violation of human rights, one of my concerns was the delay. Ivorian civil law imposes no more than a 15 day delay between the date of arrest and the date of trial for what are called “flagrant delinquencies”, categorized as crimes where the person is supposedly caught “red-handed”.
I realized that the hearings were set to begin at 9:00AM. We arrived at 10:30AM and the courtroom was empty. We left the courtroom at 12PM and nothing had begun. One of our colleagues, an esteemed attorney, explained that these delays were quite common. To make matters worse, the 15 day period imposed by law is often violated if the person accused does not speak French. For lack of an interpreter, the person is sent back to the MACA (see my first post) and has to wait until they can be given an interpreter.
But as I mentioned, things are changing. Apparently this 15 day period imposed by law is recent and many people that I discuss the current situation with analyze it with disdain, understandably so. Again, the ancient mentalities are disappearing and people are looking for solutions. I look forward to seeing this country truly emerge in the coming years.