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Research Project on Ethiopia Takes W&L Law Student to London

Emily Kendall ’20L is originally from Annville, PA. She graduated from Liberty University with a degree in Communication Studies, and then went on to achieve a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication also from Liberty University. After graduating, Emily spent three years working in the commercial property and liability insurance market. Emily is Executive Board Secretary for Washington and Lee’s Student Bar Association and is an active member in multiple law school organizations.

In April 2018, I was privileged to represent Washington and Lee Law at the Oromo Studies Association Conference (OSA), held at the London School of Economics. Attending OSA was the culmination of months of supervised research for Professor Henok Gabisa. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Professor Gabisa is well-versed in legal issues facing Ethiopian citizens. He frequently directs student research relevant to the country’s current events.

Emily Kendall and Henok Gabisa outside the London School of EconomicsEmily Kendall and Prof. Henok Gabisa outside the London School of Economics

In September of 2017, I began meeting with Professor Gabisa and learning about the damage caused by extractive mining practices in Ethiopia. Like many developing countries, Ethiopia’s abundant natural resources hold significant potential for growing the national economy and raising peoples’ standard of living. However, the state of extractive operations in 2017 was perpetuating human rights violations and possibly doing more harm than good. Foreign-held mines began operations without consulting the citizen groups who owned the land. This is significant because the Ethiopian constitution, as well as international treaties, explicitly grants all people the right to be consulted. Multiple deals the Ethiopian government signed with multinationals directly violated this right.

Professor Gabisa and I developed a thesis: “State-issued contracts granting extractive mining rights to investors defeat human development goals and harm peoples’ welfare when citizens’ constitutional right to be consulted regarding development is violated.” My research goals were to compare and contrast the narrative surrounding Ethiopia’s mining profits with reality, to explore consultative right sources, and to outline how extractive operations, absent consultation, have hurt citizens. I needed to compile my work in a paper and prepare to present it to the Oromo Studies Association at their annual conference.

First, I had to familiarize myself with the subject matter. This work began within my first few weeks of law school. The learning curve was steep; I knew nearly nothing about international law, Ethiopia’s legal and political structure, or the mineral mining industry. During the first few months of work I regularly met with Professor Gabisa and summarized my progress. I learned the names and backgrounds of key mining industry players, the ins and outs of Ethiopia’s political atmosphere, and looked for more details about the state-issued contracts. The latter topic was the most difficult. The Ethiopian press is heavily influenced by the state and quantifiable information on the mining contracts continues to be scarce.

Necessity is truly the mother of invention. I learned how to use international legal research databases and search engines in real time as I searched for relevant academic sources. After learning a broad swath of background information, I acquired the necessary knowledge to hone in on specific research and support our thesis. I also needed to keep abreast of current events in-country. Negative impacts of extractive mining were beginning to slowly emerge as I prepared my presentation for the OSA conference.

The final stage of my project was crafting an oral presentation of my research findings. My goal was to deliver heady legal and political information in a compelling, engaging form. Most of all, I wanted to respect those to whom I would be speaking. The audience at OSA largely consisted of first or second-generation Ethiopians, most of whom now lived abroad, and all were attending because they deeply want to see change in their home country. They travel to the London School of Economics and other international locations out of professional and personal dedication. The invitation to join in their efforts was and is an honor.

Armed with research—and spring semester class outlines—I boarded a flight to London during our final week of classes. I was privileged to spend Saturday, April 14 meeting members of OSA, listening to their academic findings, and presenting our research. Meeting men and women who have dedicated years to creating a better future for Ethiopian citizens was deeply moving. The term “human rights violation” is broad and can accurately describe a number of worldwide injustices. The opportunity to perform research and be present at OSA’s conference in London allowed me to grow academically, professionally, and personally.

I am deeply grateful to a number of people and organizations who made my experience possible. Professor Henok Gabisa extended the offer to me and guided my efforts. Professor Mark Drumbl and the Transnational Law Institute graciously provided funding for my trip. Finally, I am grateful to Washington and Lee Law for supporting my participation and cultivating an environment where opportunities are available.