Cell Phones and Oracles: Legal Globalization Meets the Marabout's Mystical Justice in the West African Republic of Niger
60 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2005
Date Written: September 13, 2005
The West African Republic of Niger, like many countries in the developing world, is in the midst of a root and branch revision of its legal system with the aim of bringing it into conformity with global - and by global, of course, we mean Western - legal norms. The law that exists in Niger today is a mixed bag of African and Western, traditional and modern, religious and secular. However, the vast majority of Niger's people, particularly its rural people, ignores the Western, modern, and secular aspects of the country's law and governs its affairs according to longstanding tradition. In spite of the population's preference for traditional law, Niger's government, under the influence of Western donor countries and international financial institutions, appears determined to phase it out in favor of a legal system that is more consistent with and acceptable to the globalized world.
Much of this paper will be devoted to describing a particular aspect of Niger's popular, contemporary, non-Western law: the use of magio-religious oracles to identify wrongdoers and resolve disputes. The paper will then argue that Niger's current approach to state legal reform - an approach dictated largely by the West - is flawed because it is rooted in a fundamentally foreign conception of law and justice, and because it fails to take account of existing practices and beliefs such as the reliance on oracles. The paper concludes that the effort - in Niger and elsewhere - to introduce modern law will fail unless it is sufficiently flexible to recognize and make use of traditional methods of achieving justice.
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