Lux et Lex

For a week I’ve been teaching a course on genocide (, the law against) at the Faculté des Sciences Juridiques et Politiques at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop.  And while we have plenty of lex, we’re still lacking the lux.

My new law faculty in Dakar, Senegal.

My new law faculty in Dakar, Senegal.

At least the kind of light that requires electricity.  The law faculty has lacked juice since before I arrived, going on some 7 weeks by some accounts.  I’m teaching a night course in a Masters professional track for the Institut des Droits de l’Homme (IDHP).  Because this masters program is intended for students who work during the day, the course is scheduled to run from 5pm – 8pm.  But since the sun sets in the 7pmish range and the shadows start growing long by 6:45pm, we’ve had to call it a night – literally – all three class meetings this week.  Tonight, when we pushed past 7pm because we were caught up talking about our case studies of Cambodia and Rwanda, several students pulled out flashlights so they could see their research notes.  By the time we broke up, I could not see the students in the back row.  And I learned that there’s a night bird right outside the seminar room window with a high-pitched mechanical beeping chirp that gets going around 7:15pm.

The students are wonderful.  Engaged, thoughtful, well prepared for class, participatory.  And they’re doing a great job of listening to one another, even though French tradition of dictée usually trains students to listen only to the prof.

Students taking a break in the law faculty courtyard.

Students taking a break in the law faculty courtyard.

And while we’re not quite the U.N., our ranks include people from Gabon, Niger, Germany, France, and Senegal, who work in the military, university student affairs, police, women’s rights NGO, airport security, and private law office.  A new student to the class tonight served in UNAMIR under General Romeo Dallaire.

But conditions at the faculty are just plain terrible.  No juice. No functioning plumbing either, as far as I can see and smell.  Broken windows.  Trash all over (sometimes in overflowing trash cans, sometimes not even close).  Graffiti.

A view of the main classroom building from my research center, CREDILA.

A view of the main classroom building from my research center, CREDILA.

Broken furniture in the courtyard.  An overall feeling of neglect.  My empty concrete cube of a classroom at the National University of Rwanda, where students migrated from room to room looking for tables and chairs to borrow, looks elegant in comparison.  When I leave the building at night, walking out into the campus looking for a taxi to take me home, I see the medical school ablaze in lights, looking tidy, and giving off that contented whir of operating air conditioners.  It’s hard not to believe that the country’s attitude about the rule of law isn’t reflected in its funding of the law school.

This NYT article from 2007 is still the case in 2009.  I walk past the dorms described (and pictured) every class day from my bus stop to the law faculty, and can tell you that they’ve only gotten worse in the last two years.  When I passed them before the school year started, I thought that squatters had taken over some abandoned buildings!  Little did I know that the people I saw filling jerry cans at the communal water tap or hanging wash from their windows were Senegal’s best and brightest students.  Whether it’s due to the Millennium Development Goals’ focus on primary education or the World Bank’s policies (and others’, like the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, now comprised of seven foundations, MacArthur, Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller, Hewlett, Mellon, and Kresge  to support universities in Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa) just not giving enough, what’s clear on the ground is that more is needed.  Period.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] The MDP Secretariat, which is based at Columbia University’s Earth Institute (directed by Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and former head of the U.N.’s Millenium Project), will manage the developing network of universities offering the MDP, develop an open-source repository for its curriculum and other teaching materials, and offer an online, distance learning component on sustainable development. (See their excellent website about the MDP here.)   (NOTE:  Check out the photo used for the UCAD link.  For those of you closely following this blog, you’ll understand the wry smile on my face when first arriving at this webpage.  Look at the main photo of the NYT slide show on declining universities in Africa posted here on my blog.) […]

  2. […] and grading essay exams – all in French – has been a challenge but a welcomed one.  Per my first impressions, the students are marvelous:  motivated, industrious, and always kind to me. Future subject for a […]

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