29. Reflections on Chad and Sudan – The Rule of Law


I get parking tickets now and again.  It happens.  Here’s how the conversation went semi-recently:

I got a ticket

Oh, that sucks. 

Kind of.

You’re just saying that, of course you’re pissed.

Nope, not pissed at all.  In fact, I get a slight rush of happiness when I get a ticket. 

uh… wha? 

Growing up in Thornhill, Ontario was a standard, Canadian, secular-cloistered environment.   When I started driving, at around 16/17, I would occasionally get parking tickets and feel hard-done-by.  When I was driving and heard sirens behind me, my stomach would drop.  Thankfully I never got a speeding ticket, but still, I recall the quasi-instinctive fear of the law. This feeling more or less diminished throughout my life, but the residues remained; tickets are a bad thing.

In Chad, there is no rule of law that is worth mentioning.   There was a local administrator in Farchana, and often I was trotted along to negotiations now and again as it was viewed as a sign of respect to bring medical team members to meetings.   The fellow could be abrasive and accusatory, and other times could be downright pleasant.  He could do whatever he wanted.  He had a type of power that is unknown in other parts of the world.  He could set the truth conditions for the world around him, if only a small chunk of the world.  That which he said was wrong was wrong, and his word was generally unquestionable.  Negotiations were delicate, to say the least.

This fellow casually stated one afternoon, during a meeting, that he allowed MSF to maintain its medical mission with relative safety.  Nobody doubted this.

During a car-jacking, as I mentioned in a previous post, an ex-pat humanitarian aid worker from France was shot in the head.  His death may not have been entirely accidental, and the repercussions for the local community was effectively absent.  This was a sanctioned occurrence, it appeared.

Harsh, arbitrary and radically discretionary punishments, meted out by the local warlord was the way of life.  Human rights were negligible.  Women’s rights were almost non-existent.  This was the furthest thing from a meritocracy I had ever seen, and it made me sick to my stomach.  It struck me for the first time how crucial the rule of law is to undergirding civilization.  (I wondered what other fundamentals were necessary and sufficient, such as payment of living wages, adoption of the scientific method, etc.)


Back to modern day Toronto.  The fact that one can leave their car for an extra 20 minutes for which payment was not made, and there is a surveillance system that is generally fair, universal, enforceable and contestable is a great achievement.  A seemingly small thing, but flowing from an absolutely necessary, and in a way, a wonderful system.  Even if I’m out $30 for tarrying a bit.