Week Seven

Human Security

With my research on internal security law largely complete, my work this past week focused primarily on helping prepare the JSD team’s reports for publication. This entailed utilizing my research to draft short explanations of existing security actors, which will be used in the appendices, and providing some analysis of the workshop recommendations.

These reports situate the JSD workshops in a human security context. Human security is a particular approach that focuses on security issues from an individual-, rather than a top-down and state-, focused, perspective. Essentially, human security exists when individuals are free from want and fear. It’s a highly interdisciplinary approach that focuses on the ways in which poverty, health, education, and other socio-economic factors beyond crime and violence contribute to insecurity. 

The effect of these socio-economic factors on insecurity is particularly evident in the Sahel and Maghreb regions. Where people do not have the means to meet their basic needs legitimately, they may turn to crime to do so. Additionally, the inability to provide for oneself can inspire frustration with the state and a sense of isolation or abandonment that may evolve into violence. High levels of crime and armed groups exist in many of the states in these regions. For example, Nigeria, lack of economic opportunities and high unemployment have led many young people to join gangs or Boko Haram. 

Projects aimed at improving human security have five principles. First, they are people-centered. In other words, they consider how all of the aforementioned factors affect the survival and dignity of people. Second, they are context-specific, recognizing that security threats vary across regions, countries, and even communities. Third, they are multi-sectoral, ensuring that the factors contributing to insecurity are considered and addressed coherently. Fourth, they are prevention-focused, identifying changes that need to be made to to prevent threats in addition to alleviating them. Finally, they emphasis both the protection and empowerment of individuals. While protection refers to institutional reform, empowerment focuses on the individual role in security. With these reports, I am analyzing how recommendations made in community workshops fit into the human security dynamic. 

Mande Customary Law

Significant portions of the reports were written by JSD’s partner organizations in-country, and so sometimes context is missing that would make it easier for reader from the US or Europe to understand the details. As I mentioned, I have been drafting appendices of workshop actors to provide this context. Many of the reports stated that blacksmiths or hunters serve as traditional mediators, but the reports provide any explanation (why blacksmiths? what exactly is their role? etc.). Apparently, the role of blacksmiths and hunters as mediators derives from customary law among the Mande peoples (who comprise multiple ethnic groups in the region). 

Mande customary law is based in part on the concept of "nyama", which is a homonym for occult powers and evil spirits or forces, or even refuse. Traditionally nyama referred to that which is external to the community (i.e. nature). This is an overly simplistic explanation, but typically customary law usually revolves around communal identity. So nature was  “evil” or "bad" (again, to use an overly simplistic term) because it was external to the community. 

The Mande conceived of nyamakalaw artisans as people who transform nyama from something that is "evil"  to something that is "good" or useful for the community. So for example, a blacksmith transforms ore into iron; a leatherworker transforms animal skin into leather; a potter transforms clay into pottery. Nyamakalaw artisans are believed to have nyam (occult powers) and so they can transform nyam (evil forces), meaning that they can navigate and change the evil forces that threaten a community. This would include any inter-community disputes that threaten social cohesion within the community. This is why blacksmiths and other artisans are mediators in inter-community disputes. 

Hunters and hunters guilds also fit into this. Traditionally hunters worked primarily outside of the community; thus they also dealt with nyam (evil forces). Hunters also transform nyam by converting game into food. However, hunters have a different status than nyamakalaw artisans because what they create doesn't add to community identity or culture and because they primarily function outside the community. So while hunters have nyam (occult powers), they are not as attached to the community as artisans. However, hunters often were used as diplomats between communities. Therefore they still operate as mediators, but in inter-community relations rather than intra-community relations. Today, globalization is bringing to the community forces that are not traditionally known, and so hunters are considered to be mediators to community participation in the modern world. 

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m really excited about this! I love learning about customary law, and I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to do so this summer because security law is so state-focused. Customary law is a very niche interest when you’re a law student, but it’s actually part of the reason that I came to law school in the first place. As an undergraduate student, I studied economics, and two of my professors studied under Douglass North, the father of New Institutional Economics (NIE). The most basic premise of NIE is that institutions (the rules that govern behavior), both formal (legal rules, regulations, etc.) and informal (customs and norms), matter to economic development, and its crucial that formal and informal institutions complement one another. In other words, laws and a justice system have to be meaningful to people or they won’t be followed or used. Where formal and informal institutions don’t complement one another, we often see not only a lack of economic growth, but conflict as well. 

What these workshops are doing is bringing together representatives of formal and informal institutions to work on security challenges together. It’s effectively a practical application of NIE in a microcosm, and my inner nerd is very excited about it.