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Teaching the Logistics of Legislative Drafting in Ethiopia: Part II

Jeromy Pankratz, Assistant Attorney General, South Dakota Attorney General's Office 

It was with no small amount of astonishment that I listened to the class discuss with much solemnity their proposed legislation to prevent children of the kingdom from entering the forest while under threat of dragon attack. Wait. It may make more sense to start at a different part of this narrative, lest it sound like last week’s episode of Game of Thrones.

It started as an unassuming September 2015 email from my chief deputy, Charlie McGuigan, asking if I would be interested in conducting an October 2015 training on the “how to” of drafting legislation. The idea piqued my interest, as I currently do a good portion of the bill drafting for the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office and had also enjoyed teaching at the university level prior to working for Attorney General Jackley. What was all the more interesting was that this opportunity was to take place at the African Union (AU) facility in the heart of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Of course I enthusiastically put my name into consideration before recognizing that I knew little (actually, nothing at all) about either the AU or Ethiopia.

With the most cursory of Internet research on the location and relative safety of Ethiopia, as well as permission from my wife, I sent off my résumé and hoped for the best. After a bit of back and forth with the National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI), a branch of the National Association of Attorneys General, and the U.S. Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau, I, along with Robert Clark from the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, was selected to teach a class on how to develop and create model laws, national laws, regulations, and the step-by-step process of fully implementing various treaties.

If you find yourself thinking about the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office and the first thing that comes to mind is implementation of international treaties, you might want to reconsider what you know about South Dakota, international treaties, and the general practice of law. After I vocalized the same concerns, Bob and I were assured that our expertise in bill drafting and general lobbying principles would be more than enough to allow us to provide a beneficial training to the Office of Legal Counsel of the AU.

With that, Bob and I got to work, which can most aptly be pictured as a “hard-work montage” set to a driving guitar and 80’s synthesizer soundtrack with many notes being furiously scribbled and many pages deliberately turned.

This is where we get back to the George R.R. Martin-esque issue of dragons and forests. Bob, during one of his many late night Google-fests ran across a training that had been put on by Tobias Dorsey, a lawyer for the U.S. government and an author of a book on legislative drafting. Upon completion of what I picture was a frantic cry for help from Bob, Mr. Dorsey kindly sent us some example of materials he had used with great success, which included a hypothetical involving an imaginary kingdom that had issues with dragons. Some might wonder why such a cartoonish concept would be used when leading a discussion on policy and bill drafting with a group of professionals including lawyers, drafters, and actual ambassadors to the AU. The primary reason is that we were more concerned with providing a strong discussion on the principles of drafting and were less concerned with topical affairs.

When one introduces an actual issue into the topic of legislative drafting, policy discussions often take the front seat, and the principles of import are relegated to the far back seat like a third child on a cross-country family vacation. So instead of using substantive issues of concern, such as human trafficking, sexual violence, gang warfare, or the environment, we used a place holder discussion so that the attendees could still be put through intellectual rigors of drafting, but not feel stymied or stifled by issues in their home countries.

For that reason, we had our class of 25 or so participants deliberate the ways in which they could draft laws that would prevent children from going into the forest and being eaten by dragons. What most captured my attention was the astounding level of interest each person gave to the assignment. We gave our full lecture on the basics of every part of a bill, but then, as a group project, we asked for some simple language for passing one law on the issue as provided and asked the students to complete the task in about half an hour.

It was our intent that they work on the body of the bill and we would tack on the other necessities later. After they had asked a few times for more time, we had them present what they had drafted. Not only did they draft the body of the bill as requested, but also drafted the title, definition section, enacting clause, some “whereas” language, emergency clauses, and one group even added a sunset provision. This is not to say that the participants did not have some knowledge already as to how to draft legislation, but the extent they wished to show their knowledge was inspiring.

In my previous experience teaching legal courses at two different universities, I often struggled to keep the students’ attention, even when English was presumably their first language. At the AU, which is made up of 54 member countries with its members speaking Arabic, French, Portuguese, and numerous African dialects, it was not very difficult to overcome the language barrier to teach a productive class. Many U.S. terms of art, idioms, and turns of phrase took some explaining, but they took to learning our “slang” with the same passion as they devoured the curriculum.

When I say the students took to the class with zeal, it is hard to find the appropriate term to describe it. Bob and I often found ourselves running out of time during the presentations because of the level and depth of questions the students asked. By the end of the week, we had not only covered the basics of drafting legislation, but had also taken the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants and had drafted model legislation for its implementation.

As a side note, I had carted along some swag from our consumer protection division to hand out to the class, thinking it would be necessary to motivate participants with prizes. I brought a number of items including pens, pencils, coin purses, rulers, frisbees, and collapsed foam koozies, which had the South Dakota Attorney General’s seal printed on them. Many of these items were fun and popular state side, but at the AU, the koozies seemed to be going much faster than all the other items. At break, a student who had traveled and lived in the United States came up with a large smile on her face and told me that I may want to explain what the koozie actually was, as everyone that had taken one thought it was a cell phone sleeve/protector. On a continent where cold drinks were not common, neither were koozies.

Lest you think that we spent all our time in the class room, Bob and I made sure that we also had time to explore the city of Addis, as well as see some of the local attractions, including the Red Terror Museum and the Maryam Church. There seemed to be a genuine respect for personal space and a welcoming attitude for strangers. On a number of occasions we took a cab to a nearby shopping district and walked among the tents and shacks selling leather goods, scarves, and hand-crafted art. It was during these many excursions that I noticed a certain difficulty in catching my breath.

While I am certainly not a world-class athlete by any stretch of the imagination, I am in decent enough shape not to be out of breath after walking up a short flight of stairs. That was not the case while in Addis. Many may have experienced an odd quickness of heart rate and involuntary gulping for air while visiting Denver, Colo. The appropriately-named Mile High city rests at 5,280 feet above sea level. Addis Ababa, that beautiful city on the other side of the globe, clings comfortably to the Entoto mountain chain at a height of 7,726 feet.

It was under these winded conditions that it was explained to me the reason for the gentle haze covering the city. Because a large population of the city had no electricity, heating and fuel for cooking was accomplished by burning the readily available eucalyptus that grows in the nearby mountains. The combination of car exhaust, burning eucalyptus, and rarified air made being outdoors in Addis a breath- taking event.

While much of the city was lovely, many portions we visited had little or no infrastructure for utilities. It was jarring to see tin homes built against the outer fences of the Sheraton and Hilton hotels, with no visible utility hookups. The juxtaposition of squalor built within feet of luxury was difficult to grasp.

It is easy to forget about the convenience of something as simple as street lights until you are faced with the complete lack thereof. An evening walk from a late night meal in downtown Chicago can be an adventure, but it is most assuredly more interesting in a foreign city on the other side of the world when the only thing to break the darkness is the reflected flickering firelight from homes along the road.

Whether it was during the spare moments between lectures or during the evening hours, wandering around Addis and the AU facilities was a truly unrivaled life experience. The culture, people, art work, and architecture lose so much in the transition between reality and page; I am left with simply saying that I cannot thank NAGTRI, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the State Department, and the African Union enough for the experience of a lifetime.

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