What’s law got to do with it?

Yes, Tina Turner is crooning plaintively on the sound track in my head.  Nine months in, pushing myself to draw tentative conclusions from my research on how Senegalese law is adapting to international climate change law.  My first impression of law’s otherness in Senegalese culture keeps resurfacing.  In other words, what’s law got to do with it, got to do with it?

Initial introductions and explanation of my interest in climate change elicited questions about technical solutions like cloud seeding and biofuels.

The new global masters program in development practice at UCAD barely mentions law in its description of an interdisciplinary curriculum.

National plans to implement UNFCCC obligations/opportunities, created by Senegal in conjunction with UN bodies and NGOs, include one short paragraph on legal aspects. That then appears to be forgotten.

Women protesting in front of the National Assembly mid-May in support of a gender parity law.

Meetings with government policy makers lead to discussion of the cadre juridique (legal framework) for specific climate change policy development, but then dead end because the bill setting this out has not yet been passed by the national assembly – and until then, it’s a secret!

Planning for our university’s celebration of World Environment Day (la Journée mondiale de l’environnement, the UN’s equivalent of Earth Day), an environmental studies institute of geographers, biologists, and other hard and soft scientists has a difficult time making space in its program and planning for the lawyers.

While helping the Senegalese defense team for an arrested and imprisoned American, the judges follow the extradition statute’s dictates on proof and proceedings, but then bar the attorneys from attending and representing their client.

Is law but a second-hand discipline?  Just a handmaiden to policy (maybe philosophy in another era), often equated with politics, which is really just words without actions behind them?  In a country with a dependent judiciary (inherited from the French tradition – judges report up to the Minister of Justice, who is named by the President), how does the rule of law become established? Survive? Engender respect? Inspire adherence?  Pull us out of the mire of constantly bending rules based on who is in power and who one knows?

The CREDILA cabinet housing JOs.

Senegal has LOTS of laws on paper.  I sit surrounded by them every day in my research center.  Yellowed pieces of paper in a ribbon-tied folder, JOs (Journal Officiel, the equivalent of the Congressional Record and U.S. Code combined) with broken bindings, are dusty soft-covered compendiums paid for by foreign donors.

Senegal has signed and ratified lots of international treaties too.  The JO is littered with presidential orders recognizing them as the supreme law of the land.  Various ministry websites, as well as those of the NGOs, display plans and strategies resulting from well-intentioned workshops and conferences aimed at transplanting international obligations and best practices into the national legal culture.  And there they sit, waiting.

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