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


In recent years the West has imposed the Washington Legal Consensus on poor countries throughout the world. Carried out by international “rule doctors,” the Consensus’s goal has been to rationalize and modernize developing countries’ legal systems and thereby prepare them to reap the economic and social benefits of globalization. This paper describes the application of the Washington Legal Consensus to the West Africa Republic of Niger, and concludes that the West has much to learn about effectively exporting its law.

The main flaw in the Washington Legal Consensus is that it ignores the legal traditions that are already in place in poor countries. In contemporary Niger, for example, a majority of the population governs its legal affairs and resolves its legal disputes using magio-religious rites. In spite of this preference, Niger’s government, under the influence of the Washington Legal Consensus, appears determined to abruptly eliminate those practices in favor of uniform, rational, Western-style law.

The paper will examine in detail Nigeriens’ use of a particular magio-religious rite – the gon oracle – to identify wrongdoers and restore order to their communities. It then will argue that Niger’s current Western-inspired approach to state legal reform is flawed because it fails to take account of the gon and similar practices. It will conclude with a few modest suggestions for how reformers might achieve their goals of legal modernization.


Comparative and Foreign Law | International Law | Law and Society

Date of this Version

March 2006