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.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Poor development choices may bolster quality-of-life disparity on Tanzania's Msasani Peninsula

 Coco Beach, Msasani Peninsula, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


The short length of Coco Beach is the touristic gem of Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, which, for all its rugged charms, is not rich with touristic gems. Coco Beach sits on the eastern, Indian Ocean, coast of the ritzy Msasani Peninsula, just a few kilometers northwest of the CBD.

Msasani says a lot about wealth stratification in Africa. The worsening wealth gap is an issue that vexes me in the United States. But we've got nothing on many an African country. Where subsistence living is the norm, and social safety nets are nearly non-existent, the disparity between haves and have-nots gets closer at each end to all and nothing. And as on Msasani, the extremes are often abruptly juxtaposed. The peninsula is home to subsistence fishermen, and the polluted beaches of the slipway, in the west, and the luxury condominiums of posh Oyster Bay, in the east.

Luxury condo building on the road from Oyster Bay to Sea Cliff Village
I walked the peninsula from west to east and saw, in the span of just a few kilometers, ramshackle wood dwellings on potholed dirt trails without plumbing, in the west and center, and gated condo complexes with marble-esque, statued facades, in the east. While the former teemed with human life, the latter were eerily vacant, deserted of all but the occasional maintenance worker. I assume the condos are mostly second-home getaways and vacation rentals for the well-to-do in high season and on weekends. (I was reminded of the dark-windowed high rises that loom over Central Park West, New York.)

Qatar's is the most modest of the beachfront embassies.
At that, the most striking residences of the eastern Msasani are not luxury homes, but foreign embassies, including those of Qatar, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. (The U.S. embassy and others are in Oyster Bay, but in the interior.) They line the main coastal road that runs between Oyster Bay and Coco Beach, which runs on northward to swank Sea Cliff Village and the Yacht Club.

Present service structures on Coco Beach, astride road construction.
At present, it isn't easy to cross this road, because a massive construction project runs all along the length of Coco Beach. I had hoped that this construction would improve the beach for touristic use that might fuel economic development to benefit the peninsula's have-nots. What passes for services on the beachfront now are wood shacks of dubious hygiene, selling drinks and snacks that might prove hazardous to foreign GI tracts. One municipal toilet building has seen better days and is now inaccessible anyway because of the construction. Alas, no, a local on the beach informed me: The purpose of the construction is to convert the shoulderless, two-lane, asphalt coast road into a four-lane highway, because, he said, the embassies want better and more secure access.

Nearly completed end of beachfront highway entering the CBD.
Many an American city can today tell tales of costly woe for having built transportation and utility infrastructure along prime waterfront property. It's bad enough that embassies, with their high, secure walls, occupy this land on the peninsula to begin with. Their inefficient use of prime real estate, distant from the administrative offices of the CBD, and in the company of Tanzania's "one percent" and cloistered ex-pats, sounds an awakward echo of colonial elitism.  To boot, now, the embassies and luxury homes will soon be served by a four-lane road that will further limit public access from the peninsula to the already underdeveloped beachfront.

Tanzania in 1974 moved its capital de jure to central Dodoma, in an effort to broaden economic opportunity in the country beyond Dar es Salaam. Nevertheless, concentration of development in Dar is still a problem that plagues the country. A businessman in the northeastern town of Arusha told me there's mounting resentment there about rural taxes paying for big-city infrastructure. (Boston says hello, western Massachusetts.) Maybe foreign nations can help Tanzania take a step forward by transferring their embassies from walled beachfront luxury to central locations with better access to government, whether Dar or Dodoma, on condition that appropriate public development of the Msasani Peninsula be left in their wake.  After all, foreign diplomatic posting is supposed to be a hardship, and it's compensated accordingly.

The new highway runs in front of the historic Ocean Road Hospital, where a street sign bears a familiar name.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

US President haunts African 'ghost capital'

Main traffic circle in Canchungo, Guinea-Bissau.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

Throughout Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, characteristic landmarks found in town centers, parks, and traffic circles are large, dilapidated blocks of painted concrete, often graffitied. These blocks are actually bases that have held statues of prominent leaders during the country's tumultuous history since independence was declared in 1973.

For Guinea-Bissau, it's been a journey as rocky and potholed as the nation's roads. Independence from Portugal was hard fought, with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China pouring in arms for the revolutionaries to the end of establishing a communist foothold in West Africa. Anti-revolutionary soldiers were mass murdered after their defeat. Subsequent instability and corruption led to civil war in the 1990s, and election turmoil and political violence marked the 20-aughts. The presidential election in 2019 was contested, and just this week, since inauguration of the ultimately recognized victor, there are reports of military intimidation of the courts. No wonder statues don't last long in poor Guinea-Bissau.

That makes one statue still standing all the more an oddity. In an overgrown park in the heart of the main town on Bolama Island, in the Bijagos Archipelago, at the center of low walls of crumbling concrete that once demarcated colorful stars, the likeness of 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant rises defiantly.

The Grant statue is a curious throwback to Portuguese colonial rule. Actually, all of Bolama Town is a throwback to colonialism. Once grand Portuguese constructions crumble in slow decay in what's sometimes called Guinea-Bissau's "ghost capital." European powers such as Portugal favored locating their colonial bases of operations on offshore islands, where winds kept malarial mosquitoes at bay. Today the ghost capital is inhabited, despite its state; thousands of people live in subsistence, and sometimes dependent, conditions amid the ruins.

In the 1860s, President Grant became the mutually agreed upon arbitrator between Portugal and Great Britain over territory in the islands. After Grant awarded Bolama to Portugal in 1870, the Portuguese erected the statue to honor him. Notwithstanding the resolution of that dispute, and despite British efforts to aid the Confederacy and topple the Union in the Civil War, Grant was ultimately credited with strengthening U.S. relations with Britain during his two terms as President in the Reconstruction era. Grant proved so popular abroad that he and his wife embarked on a world tour after his presidency, and, with the imprimatur of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Grant inaugurated the custom of former presidents conducting informal diplomacy abroad.

The tale of Grant's Bolama ghost gained an unusual epilog in 2007, when the statue went missing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported the story for NPR. Apparently stolen to sell as scrap metal, Grant was recovered in pieces, and authorities ultimately restored him--not how things usually work out for statues in Guinea-Bissau.

Ruins of Portuguese palace in Bolama Town

Abandoned cinema in Bolama Town


A storefront in Bolama Town painted for politics

Kids swinging in a refurbished Bolama Town park

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.