So I'm in the West Bank.
One of the things I occasionally do is give advice on commercial laws. Not as much as you might think, mind. I'm a lawyer, I'm a commercial lawyer, I'm a development consultant, sure. But commercial laws? Mostly sets of solved problems. (Emphasis on "mostly", and also on "sets". Maybe I'll unpack that sometime.) There's been a lot of convergence in commercial law around the world in the last 15 years or so, and a lot more consciousness of comparative law. (Except in the US, of course.) Investment and trade are powerful drivers of legal standardization. And then of course there are the World Bank Doing Business Indicators, about which don't get me started.
So these days, a broken commercial law is almost like the economist's legendary $20 bill on the sidewalk: if the Zambian bankruptcy law were really as bad as that, someone would have fixed it by now. More seriously, if it really is that bad, then there's some strong reason: either some local power center is making a lot of money from that bad law, or there's some overwhelming ideological reason for it. The former is generally depressing; the latter, endlessly varied. ("It's because President Nyerere, God rest him, drafted that provision himself." "It's to prevent foreign guest workers from owning shares in companies." "There's a concern about Genetically Modified Organisms." "It's because we're still officially socialist.")
Because if there's not a strong reason to keep the bad law, and nobody important is getting rich from it, there's going to be a surprising lot of pressure to fix it. A donor -- USAID or someone like it -- will come in and target it in order to claim a win: "Our mission was responsible for drafting Yemen's wonderful new law on secured transactions!" Or pressure from investors and traders will make itself felt: "We're going to lose the regional tractor distributorship to Zimbabwe if we don't fix the finance leasing law." Or (sigh) the World Bank Doing Business rankings will come out: "Dammit, man, we're 168th in the world for construction permits! Who's working on the licensing law?"
So while I do occasionally get to do this sort of work -- I wrote Albania's invoice financing law from scratch in 2005, and I'm still pretty chuffed about that -- these days most developing countries have surprisingly complete legal frameworks for the conduct of modern business. Oh, the courts may be corrupt and the currency may be unstable and you may have to bribe the Minister's brother in order to get your work permit. But the actual laws on the books -- contract law, company law, secured transactions -- are likely to be surprisingly okay. There's a wonderful phrase that gets used: broadly consistent with international best practices. More and more, the world's commercial laws are just that.
Except in Palestine.