Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Monday, February 24, 2020

Oussouye king applies customary law in Senegal

The king and his attendants in the sacred woods. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The king of Oussouye in the Casamance region of Senegal received me with my group earlier this week. The Oussouye are part of the Diola, or Jola, ethnic group, who populate a vast transnational area reaching from Gambia to Guinea-Bissau. Diola also span religious faiths, having Islamic and Christian adherents, though traditional African religious tenets run strong in tandem with colonial imports. The Oussouye tend especially to traditional faith.

The king dispenses justice in both criminal matters and civil disputes in Oussouye. Civil matters cover a broad range, from real and personal property, to domestic relations, to obligations. The king also operates a local social welfare system, growing a quantity of food to support needy members of the community.

Typical of the manner in which customary and "modern" law are integrated within African countries, the king exercises a jurisdiction of first instance. He explained that if someone takes a matter to the police or the courts of Senegal, the authorities will ask whether the complainant has yet consulted the king, and will refuse the matter if not. This system does not fully obviate conflict, as questions arise over when the national legal system should take precedence--especially in high-profile cases implicating human rights, including non-discrimination and the rights of children. But the great bulk of dispute resolution is managed uneventfully upon traditional principles.

Chosen according to a spiritual calling, not lineal heritage, the king is said to be supernaturally endowed with wisdom, notwithstanding a lack of formal training. The Oussouye king readily said that he had been a mechanic before the spirit moved him toward his royal role.

Oussouye kids head home from school.






Traditional impluvium house.
Local chief in the center of impluvium house.

Evidence abounds of Chinese investment in the Casamance region.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Gambia AG initiates truth inquiry to get country on track

A Gambian customs office shades goats near the southern border with Senegal.
All images: RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

The TRRC process includes public awareness via signage.
With the independence of a nation's attorney general now the subject of discussion in the United States, consider Ba Tambadou, AG of the African nation of Gambia, where I visited on its independence day, February 18. A former Hague prosecutor, Tambadou was instrumental in creating the present Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission, which now is holding hearings in Gambia and dropping revelations nearly by the day in the news there.


The Gambian TRRC concerns abuses of power, including repressive violence and press suppression, that kept Yahya Jammeh in control of the country from 1994 coup to surprise election upset in 2017. The ex president now lives in exile, in reportedly sweet digs in Equatorial Guinea. He seems to have ample access to the fortune he looted on the job, which is looking like hundreds of millions of dollars, despite a 2017 US freeze on his assets under the Magnitsky Act.

TRRC proceedings captivate public attention on TVs in Banjul.

Unfortunately Gambia's elected president, Adama Barrow, has raised eyebrows by recently rescinding a pledge to serve only three years, though the national constitution does permit five. Political opponents whisper about corruption, and no doubt nerves are raw since the country finally freed itself of Jammeh. All the more important then is the independent judgment exercised by Tambadou to shine light on historical misdeeds. The TRRC is the sixth of its kind on the African continent and essential to break the cycle of maladministration in government, and hence the cycle of underdevelopment and poverty in this brilliantly diverse yet smallest mainland nation of Africa.

American rice bags are repurposed to make a mattress in Gambia. All images: RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


Friday, February 14, 2020

'Seduction' on Rue Torte, Île de Gorée, Senegal

Rue Torte, Île de Gorée, Senegal (CC BY-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele)

Happy Valentine's Day! Time magazine on the seduction tort, for the occasion, adapted by and from Clement Knox, Seduction (2020).

Friday, February 7, 2020

Northwestern Law celebrates Professor Marshall Shapo [POSTPONED]

Professor Marshall Shapo is a dear mentor and a giant of American tort law and public policy.  I am selfishly disappointed that I cannot be in Evanston on April 17, but I wholeheartedly join in the celebration of this special soul.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Falmouth takings case affords opportunity to plan for sea-level rise, if officials take notice, scholars write

In September, I wrote about a Massachusetts takings case pending petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court denied review, so the Massachusetts Appeals Court decision that vacated a jury award to the takings claimant stands. My colleagues Professors Chad McGuire and Michael Goodman have written for CommonWealth Magazine about the case's potential implications for climate change in combating sea-level rise.

McGuire and Goodman described the case:

In December the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for review by Janice Smyth of Falmouth on the question of whether the Falmouth Conservation Commission, when denying a permit to develop her coastal property in Falmouth, exacted a de facto “taking” (often referred to as a regulatory taking, or inverse condemnation). Smyth inherited the coastal property from her parents but, by the time she took action to exercise her right to develop that land in 2012, she ran afoul of the no-development zone enacted locally to mitigate erosion and coastal land loss experienced over recent decades.

They conclude that government leaders should use the latitude afforded them by this precedent to plan for the coastline impact of climate change while "manag[ing] the consequences for coastal land values, local real estate markets, and the tax base of our coastal municipalities."  Read more.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Kids everywhere play

Kids find innocent fun in the toughest of living conditions. It's a reminder that soulful joy doesn't come from worldly things.

In the photo at left, kids in Ganvie Lake Village in Benin wanted to see themselves on the screen of my little camera. Ganvie has an unusual history tied to the Portuguese slave trade; read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo by my traveling mate, Dylan Armstrong. By the way, RI/South Coast US readers, you can catch Beninese world music Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo at The Vets in Providence, R.I., on February 22. Meanwhile watch her fabulous performance on YouTube.

The photos at right and below are from in and around Jamestown, a community in Accra, Ghana. This village was an NAACP stop for the 2019 Year Of Return (WBUR), and its Old Fort is one of the string of forts and castles that memorializes the horrific suffering inflicted on "the slave coast." Two boys I met on the street, one wearing a US Soccer shirt, were experimenting with a kite they had made out of plastic and wood debris and electrical tape. In Jamestown, ever smiling Masha was my tight-gripping companion. Both photos are mine, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, taken with permission of their subjects.