Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Haven’t written much about work so far... thought I'd fix that.

As I mentioned in my first Lesotho post, I’m here with seven other Harvard students who are here on a project supported by the US government. Four of us (including me) are working to support the Millennium Challenge Account (a Lesotho-led development agency supported by the US-based Millennium Challenge Corporation) on its efforts to regularize land titles in urban areas. Sound confusing? Yeah, it is – a lot of different people in the mix (not to mention the numerous contractors and “collaborating partners” who are also involved with the project).

My team has joined up with three of the finest students from the National University of Lesotho’s Faculty of Law – great future lawyers who have been helping us navigate the legal system here. Last Friday, we went out to visit them at the University, about an hour outside of Maseru. The library there was quite badly under-stocked (especially in the legal department), but it did have some unexpected treasures. I found a copy of an official government gazette (1857) from the Cape of Good Hope, a British colony that existed before South Africa became a nation. Incredible that it was just sitting there next to the outdated encyclopedias. Me with the goods:

One purpose of my project is to categorize all the types of land-related lawsuits that have ended up in the courts over the past few years in and around the national capital. There are two reasons for doing this. First, understanding the most common land-related problems means that we can better advise the government on the most problematic land cases that come up – nobody knows right now what people are fighting over exactly. Until they do, it will be hard to develop systems that prevent those disagreements in the first place. Second, the government here is developing a (mandatory) mediation system for certain types of disagreements. So before people will be allowed to go to court, they will need to try out mediation first and see if that works, at least some of the time. Part of our job is to figure out what types of property arguments should go to the mediation first and which should fast-track to the courts. For instance, maybe divorce-related disputes should go to mediation, but maybe commercial land claims shouldn’t. It’s our job to try and figure out what makes the most sense in terms of the dispute system design.

But finding the land-related cases isn’t easy. We are starting to realize that there are hundreds of such disputes, and the files are scattered across multiple courthouses, and they’re not electronic (i.e., just paper), and they aren’t sorted in any way. All of this makes the process very labor intensive. I’ve spent the past two full days looking through vast numbers of old court cases in order to find those that relate to land disputes. With between 5-10% of total court cases relating to land, it takes a long time. Here is our team amidst the files at the High Court:

The upside of hours spent digging through documents is that some amusing stories come up: the man whose 2 goats were repo’d by a lender and wanted them back; the woman whose ex-husband sneaks into her houses and takes a poo in a bucket in the hallway; a food saleswoman defamed by her fellow street vendors as having lower-quality sausages for sale; and a student accused of cheating at the University who “discovered to his great shock” that there was a piece of paper under his desk that related to answer 7-D of his final exam. All very colorful stuff.

1 comment: