In late October 2015, I had the privilege of conducting a five-day training session for the Office of Legal Counsel of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The training focused on the basics of legislative drafting, with an emphasis on drafting domestic legislation to implement international treaties. The training was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed with the National Association of Attorneys General and its National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI). South Dakota Assistant Attorney General Jeromy Pankratz conducted the training with me.
The experience was one of the most rewarding of my professional career. Jeromy and I trained approximately 25 participants over the course of five full days. The participants included members of the AU Office of Legal Counsel and individuals representing their countries’ diplomatic missions to the AU. Some were attorneys, but others were not. All of them were highly intelligent, engaged, and eager to learn.
Over the course of the training, it became clear that many of the member states to the AU do not have full-time, non-partisan legislative drafting offices. We spent a good deal of time discussing the importance of such institutions to the democratic process. We also focused on the technical aspects of drafting.
The majority of the program, however, focused on getting participants to think like legislative drafters. In addition to lectures, we broke into smaller groups each day for brief exercises intended to put into practice the skills we had discussed. Some of the workshops focused on actual drafting, which was at times challenging due to the fact that some of the participants were not lawyers and many spoke different languages in addition to English. Most of the workshops, however, focused on the art of thinking like a legislative drafter. This included understanding the constitutional and statutory framework within which one is drafting as well as trying to imagine the unintended consequences of adopting too broad or too narrow policies. We also discussed the distinctions between policy makers and drafters. We emphasized the role of the drafter as one who thinks hard about the policy makers’ goals, asks difficult questions, and gives policy makers opportunities to craft better policies. At the end of each workshop, the groups presented their final products to the rest of the class for discussion. This gave us all an opportunity to see how different approaches can achieve equally effective outcomes. It also demonstrated the importance of time and collaboration.
On the final day of the training, each subgroup attempted to draft national legislation to implement an actual protocol to an international treaty. I was extremely impressed by how far the participants had come over the course of the week, both in their approaches to the task and their final products. I could not have asked for a more motivated, engaged, and attentive group. It was clear that the subject matter was highly relevant both at the AU and within the AU member states.
In addition to the training, Jeromy and I were fortunate to have with us two representatives from the State Department. Chelsea Mubarak and Roushani Mansoor coordinated the trip, traveled with us to Ethiopia, attended the workshops, and even helped us find time to explore Addis during our somewhat limited free time. NAGTRI staff also provided invaluable assistance. Jeanette Manning, NAGTRI counsel, pointed us toward helpful training resources, suggested topics, and was always available for any questions Jeromy and I had.
I highly recommend participating as a faculty member in any international training offered by NAGTRI. It was both personally and professionally gratifying to work and interact with so many people from different cultural backgrounds. It also was gratifying to know that we provided valuable assistance to many emerging democracies within Africa. I hope to have the opportunity and privilege to conduct a similar training in the future.