News / Africa

New Website Gives Senegalese Easier Access to Laws

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Julia Ritchey

Legal scholars in Senegal have a new website that makes the country's laws more accessible and gives Senegalese lawyers an opportunity to contribute their own research. The website is the brainchild of a U.S. law professor.

Tracy Bach, a professor at the Vermont University School of Law, says she wanted to create a one-stop source for Senegalese legal research. She came up with the idea of a website while completing a Fulbright Scholarship in Senegal last year, working alongside law faculty and students.

Bach worked on the project with technicians at Harvard University's Berkman Center, which focuses on ways the Internet can be used to increase the rule of law in developing countries.

In December, Bach's team launched a wiki, a type of website that allows users to contribute their knowledge on specific topics.

"So what a wiki does, and in particular this wiki, helps to develop a community of people, people who are interested in the law and how the law can be used in a democracy, and it not only gives them a place to find these tools, but encourages them to post what they know," Bach said.

Anyone who registers on the site can submit entries or information on Senegalese laws, which is then reviewed by Bach and her colleagues before being published.

Bach said that while in Dakar, she sometimes had to shuttle from office to office to find pieces of law that could not be found online.

"Here in the U.S. we can Google almost anything and find the relevant U.S. law in point,” Bach added. “In contrast, in Senegal it's hard just to find the law itself because the printed form is not very accessible. And that's what digitalizing does, it makes it more accessible."

She realized that having easier access to these sources, and having a vehicle to publish analyses and interpretations of the law, would benefit Senegal's legal scholars.

"Fundamentally, it's not so much to stay abreast of dynamic law, though I think that's a good idea,” she said. “It really is to build a community of people who want to use the law to improve the rule of democracy in Senegal."

Senegal's democracy, like many African countries, has largely emphasized power through the executive branch.

Bach is hopeful that members within Senegal's government will join the wiki effort and post information from their ministries.

Bach's larger goal is to expand the site from beyond Senegal to other West African countries.

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