June 13, 2014
About two weeks ago, I heard a rumor (mostly started by me) that I would be going on a mission with the team to assist with the legal aid seminars north of Abidjan. I partly mostly wanted to go so that I could see the rest of the country but a part of me also wanted to hear the diverse perspectives and discussions other seminars would bring.
Last Monday, we got on the road to Daloa, a city northwest of Abidjan. We stopped for lunch in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Cote d’Ivoire, and continued for two and a half hours until we made it to Daloa.
After checking into the hotel, I finally got a chance to eat at a “Maqui”, a small outdoor restaurant where people typically go to watch soccer games. The meals were served “family style” and everyone got to dig in with their hands. We feasted on wild caught fish, Atieke (a sort of couscous made from manioc), grilled chicken and rice.
In the morning, we had our second seminar. Led by the Director of Civil and Penal Affairs, we discussed the law on legal aid along with some common challenges imposed by the law. For example, many Ivorians do not rely on the legal aid system and instead look to traditional law and local chiefs to administer the law and resolve their legal matters.
In some cases of rape, for instance, a woman and her family would visit the chief responsible for her jurisdiction, and have her case heard. If the Chief finds the accused guilty, the Chief may rule that the accused will have to give certain items and animals to the woman and her family (in many cases, a certain amount of salt, an animal—like a goat or chicken—and other items considered of value in the region).
The conflict between legal tradition and written law has distinct consequences in this country, which greatly impedes the function of the legal system and the law on legal aid. Following the seminar, we had lunch with the participants. The next day, we hit the road for Bouake, a large city directly north of Abidjan. There we conducted the same seminar and heard some of the same concerns heard in Daloa, echoed in Bouake.
Overall, the seminars were very successful and I learned more than I could have possibly imagined. African legal tradition has a large role in the legal system of all African countries. Many countries ignore it. However, ignoring it does not resolve the problem. Embracing legal tradition and finding novel ways to incorporate legal tradition will bring countries like Ivory Coast one step closer to having a system that people can trust with their problems.