Exporting Western Law to the Developing World: The Troubling Case of Niger

Kelley III, Thomas A.
December 2007
Global Jurist;Dec2007, Vol. 7 Issue 3, p4
Academic Journal
In recent years the West has dispatched "rule doctors" across the developing world to guide poor countries through the process of legal modernization and westernization. Their goal, laid out by the so-called Washington Consensus, has been to reform those countries' legal systems so that they might share in the economic bounty of globalization. But things have not always gone well, particularly -- this paper argues -- where those rule doctors have ignored existing legal traditions. The paper focuses on the particular case of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. At present, most of Niger's citizens rely on magio-religious traditions to accomplish what we in the West would consider law. One important, and from a Western perspective colorful, Nigerien legal tradition is its citizens' reliance on an oracle called the gon to identify wrongdoers and restore harmony to their communities. The paper will describe the gon, and will point out some of the ways that it differs fundamentally from Western conceptions of law. It then will conclude that Washington Consensus law reform in Niger will fail, and will very likely cause social unrest, unless it takes a different tack and finds a way to accommodate existing legal traditions.


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