In Sierra Leone’s rainy season, the Sewa River, feared by many locals for its powerful currents, floods over its banks separating entire villages from basic services. Konta health clinic in Kenema district operates near the shores of the Sewa, and during the six-month rainy season, five of Konta’s 17 dependent villages cannot access the clinic. If women in those villages give birth during the rains, they entrust care to traditional birth attendants; if children fall ill, they turn to traditional medicine, stockpiled drugs, and, often, prayer. As one woman explained during a recent community meeting in Konta, these are the only options, even if the all-too-frequent consequence is death. Hearing her account, it’s difficult not to feel a strong sense of injustice, even in an incredibly resource-constrained country like Sierra Leone. But is there a role for the law in remedying this situation?
The community around Konta has offered one compelling answer. Konta’s residents have enacted a “bylaw” to improve clinic access as part of the government of Sierra Leone’s community compact health intervention, in which community members work with health clinic staff to design and implement their own solutions to health problems. Under the Konta bylaw, all households around the clinic must make a small contribution (either in cash or in labor) to help construct a boat to transport pregnant women and sick patients across the Sewa river.
The Konta bylaw is one of dozens of “quasi-legal” commitments that have emerged quite unexpectedly across the four districts implementing the community compact intervention. While the intervention uses the construct of compacts – or “social contracts” – to stimulate clinic and community action, local level actors have added to this compact process by enacting their own set of rules to guide behavior in ways they deem important. Other communities have proposed regulations on local waste management and crafted punitive measures to obstruct drug peddlers. Such “quasi-law,” or “soft law,” falls short of the dictates of formal law – these laws are not officially enacted, nor are they enforceable in the formal legal system such as through recourse to the courts. Instead, they derive power in some of the other ways in which law has strength – by aligning with widely agreed social norms, enlisting social networks for enforcement, and leveraging the potential shame that would come with non-compliance.
Community members work with health clinic staff to design and implement their own solutions to health problems.
These soft laws provide one response to the collective action and trust problems that others have identified as fundamental
obstacles to development. David Booth from ODI and Duncan Green from Oxfam suggest that exclusive supply- and demand-
side governance endeavors fail because “people aren’t prepared to take risks and bear the costs of working with others, unless
they believe that everyone else will do so too.” If that is the case, then perhaps the local, public process of identifying problems and drafting a set of responsive rules can remedy deficits in trust and facilitate collective action.
The use of law to promote development has a long history, rooted in ideals of protecting individual freedom, enhancing equality, and increasing the ability of citizens to participate in and rationally configure social life. Yet beginning in the 1970s there was a growing disillusionment with the seeming lack of success in using formal law to promote development. In the decades that followed, law and development reemerged in different forms. From the 1990s on, there was an emphasis on top-down systems of constructing courts, training judges, and enacting constitutional reform, with varying success. Legal empowerment efforts have worked to democratize access to justice through use of community paralegals, but these efforts have primarily focused on solutions based in formal law. And other efforts emphasized states’ obligations to fulfill citizens’ human rights, including those to health; but this endeavor too has had challenges, particularly in the world’s poorest countries where states are particularly weak.
Perhaps the local, public process of identifying problems and drafting a set of responsive rules can remedy deficits in trust and facilitate collective action.
The experience in Sierra Leone reveals the potential utility of locally-designed and -responsive law in addressing mainstream development challenges. A formal randomized-controlled trial of the intervention is underway and will measure impacts on utilization and perceptions of health care delivery. Yet the early results show how communities have been using the dominion of law to make society legible, guide collective behavior, build trust, and promote broader social and economic goals. In Konta’s example, law emerges not separate from economic and political solutions to certain types of critical community problems, but rather as an instrument of those solutions. Konta is using this soft law to navigate an expansive river and connect communities to essential services. In the long run, broader structural answers – including those grounded in the formal law – will have to fully bridge that river and provide equitable health care.
Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on the World Bank’s “Let’s Talk Development” Blog and has been cross-posted with permission from the author.
Margaux J. Hall is the 2012-2014 Center for Reproductive Rights- Columbia Law School Fellow. Her work focuses on justice reform and governance, particularly in the delivery of essential services. Margaux has conducted development and governance research in South Africa as a Fulbright Fellow and in East Africa as a Harvard University Frederick Sheldon Fellow. Margaux also worked at a private law firm, where her practice focused on litigation and government and internal investigations. Margaux’s recent publications include Avoiding Adaptation Apartheid: Climate Change Adaptation and Human Rights Law, forthcoming in the Yale Journal of International Law, and Answering the Millennium Call for the Right to Maternal Health in the Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal.
Margaux graduated from Stanford University, with honors and distinction, and Harvard Law School, cum laude.
Last updated January 30, 2013.
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Last updated: July 25, 2022
Welcome to the namati.org website (the “Site”) and the Legal Empowerment Network Forum (the “Forum”) operated by Namati, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“Namati”, “we”, “us” or “our”). We share your concern about the protection of your personal information online.
This Policy describes our privacy practices and sets out your obligations and ours with respect to your use of the Site and the Forum. This Policy applies only to the Site and the Forum and does not necessarily apply to our offline collection of information.
Namati may collect and retain two types of information about Site and Forum visitors: (i) personal information that individual visitors voluntarily provide when interacting on the Site or Forum or on certain other occasions (such as via forms or in emails); and (ii) tracking data, which is data that is automatically collected from every Site and Forum visitor as they use and browse the site.
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The section titles in this Policy are for convenience only and have no legal or contractual effect. The Site, the Learning Site, the Forum, and any third-party services they use, may be subject to additional terms and conditions regarding privacy and use of information. Your use of the Site and the Forum is subject to those terms and conditions, which are incorporated into this Policy by reference. In the event of an inconsistency between this Policy and any additional posted conditions, the provisions of the additional conditions shall control.
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You can also access, remove, update or correct your information, and raise any questions or concerns regarding the Site or the Policy, by emailing email@example.com, or mailing:
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It is important that the personal data we hold about you is accurate and current. Please keep us informed if your personal data changes during your relationship with us.
You have the right to:
Request access to your personal data (commonly known as a “data subject access request”). This enables you to receive a copy of the personal data we hold about you and to check that we are lawfully processing it.
Request correction of the personal data that we hold about you. This enables you to have any incomplete or inaccurate data we hold about you corrected, though we may need to verify the accuracy of the new data you provide to us.
Request erasure of your personal data. This enables you to ask us to delete or remove personal data where there is no good reason for us continuing to process it. You also have the right to ask us to delete or remove your personal data where you have successfully exercised your right to object to processing (see below), where we may have processed your information unlawfully or where we are required to erase your personal data to comply with local law. Note, however, that we may not always be able to comply with your request of erasure for specific legal reasons which will be notified to you, if applicable, at the time of your request.
Object to processing of your personal data where we are relying on a legitimate interest (or those of a third party) and there is something about your particular situation which makes you want to object to processing on this ground as you feel it has an impact on your fundamental rights and freedoms. You also have the right to object where we are processing your personal data for direct marketing purposes. In some cases, we may demonstrate that we have compelling legitimate grounds to process your information which override your rights and freedoms.
Request restriction of processing of your personal data. This enables you to ask us to suspend the processing of your personal data in the following scenarios:
Request the transfer of your personal data to you or to a third party. We will provide to you, or a third party you have chosen, your personal data in a structured, commonly used, machine-readable format. Note that this right only applies to automated information which you initially provided consent for us to use or where we used the information to perform a contract with you.
Withdraw consent at any time where we are relying on consent to process your personal data. However, this will not affect the lawfulness of any processing carried out before you withdraw your consent. If you withdraw your consent, we may not be able to provide certain products or services to you. We will advise you if this is the case at the time you withdraw your consent.
You will not have to pay a fee to access your personal data (or to exercise any of the other rights). However, we may charge a reasonable fee if your request is clearly unfounded, repetitive or excessive. Alternatively, we could refuse to comply with your request in these circumstances.
We may need to request specific information from you to help us confirm your identity and ensure your right to access your personal data (or to exercise any of your other rights). This is a security measure to ensure that personal data is not disclosed to any person who has no right to receive it. We may also contact you to ask you for further information in relation to your request to speed up our response.
We try to respond to all legitimate requests within one month. Occasionally it could take us longer than a month if your request is particularly complex or you have made a number of requests. In this case, we will notify you and keep you updated.
If you live in an EEA Member State, all of which have adopted the EU GDPR and national , you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application. The European Commission has a list of EU national data protection authorities here:
If you live in the United Kingdom, you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority, the ICO, about this policy and its application:
The Policy was updated in July 2022 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.