This week was my first full week at USIP, where I will be lending research support to the Justice and Security Dialogue project. The JSD team is currently working on the first phase of the project, which is conducted in six countries in the Maghreb and Sahel; however, I am helping to prepare for the second phase, conducting research that will inform and contribute to the funding agreement.
How USIP Works
USIP is a nonpartisan, quasi-governmental entity. It was created by Congress, and as such it is subject to certain funding limitations. USIP is prohibited from accepting funds from private entities (except in a limited set of circumstances). Instead, its general funds come from congressional appropriations, and USIP enters into agreements with individual agencies to conduct specific projects (known as inter-agency agreements or IAAs).
JSD and Legal Research in the Maghreb and the Sahel
The current IAA between USIP and the State Department for JSD in the Maghreb and Sahel regions ends this fall. In preparation for a second IAA with a potentially more macro-level focus, I am researching the internal security laws of the six countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia. With one exception (Nigeria), the official languages of those six countries are not English. Rather, the legal systems of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal are recorded in French, and Tunisia’s legal system is recorded in Arabic. The language barrier thus presents a certain challenge, particularly because this area of the law is largely un-researched. Very few legal or social science scholars have written in English about the internal security situations in francophone western Africa. Thus, my access to English secondary sources is also limited.
The resource constraints of these countries presents yet another, perhaps bigger, challenge. In the age of Google Translate, obtaining decent English translations of the laws that I can find is not terribly difficult. The real challenge is in finding the laws themselves. During my time at William & Mary, I have had many opportunities to conduct foreign research on legal issues in developing countries. As such, I am no stranger to this challenge, and my past experience has been very helpful so far. Fortunately, Burkina Faso keeps an online database of its official gazette (the official publication of all laws, decrees, ordinances, and administrative decisions promulgated by the government). Though it is entirely in French, I was able to identify and access the relevant laws governing internal security in Burkina Faso. Additionally, Mali’s Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection publishes a PDF of a scanned copy of all laws relevant to its activities. Suddenly I had most of the relevant material for two countries.
Then I got to Niger. With a GDP per capita of $1,100, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. A history of political instability and rebellions have helped to stagnate its growth, and it currently faces instability in the form of armed terrorist groups. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the government does not have the resources to publish its legal texts online. The Library of Congress used to produce a database (called GLIN) containing foreign legal texts, including Niger’s, but it was decommissioned in 2011. It’s in moments like this when being in D.C. is incredibly helpful: the Library of Congress maintains on microfiche the Journal Official de la Republique de Niger. Of course it’s in French, which means that I myself cannot read it, but the record exists and is available to me. It is, however, very unfortunate, though not surprising, that I can only access these materials due to my proximity to one of few copies in the world.
Next week, I will begin examining how internal security laws in this region operate in reality. Based on what I have learned so far, it appears that they do not function particularly well, if at all.