Rwanda to have first arbitration centre

Complaints of many unresolved commercial cases due to lack of commercial courts have beeen many. But now commercial courts are in place and judges were recently sworn-in. 

Complaints of many unresolved commercial cases due to lack of commercial courts have beeen many.

But now commercial courts are in place and judges were recently sworn-in.

Because there had never existed commercial courts in Rwanda, some experienced judges were flown in from Malaysia to reinforce the system.

But this will certainly not amply solve the problem in the short-run, because the backlog of unresolved commercial cases is so huge.

Besides, judicial courts are also reportedly overwhelmed by civil and other forms of cases. 

However, a sustainable solution is in the pipeline. Private Sector Federation (PSF)-Rwanda, the umbrella organisation for all private businesses in the country is championing establishing a regional Arbitration Centre which will act as an alternative to settling commercial and civil cases.

Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution between parties outside state courts or judicial system where the parties themselves charter a private tribunal for the resolution of their dispute. 

Parties establish arbitration and relinquish it. For that matter, they (parties) engage a neutral qualified person called arbitrator who acts only within the terms of the parties’ agreement which defines the sphere of his authority; but has both duties and powers in the conduct of the arbitration.

Arbitration is looked at as an efficient mechanism of solving cases—more expeditiously than the normal judicial system. Rwanda aims at positioning herself as an investment destination by creating a conducive business environment.

Thus, a number of legal reforms have been made and commercial laws homologated; all in a spirit of attracting investors.

But having good laws in place is one thing and having them work for investors is another thing all together.

To businessmen, time is money…justice delayed translates into immeasurable losses. Establishing an arbitration center is generally regarded as a way that will expedite commercial justice and consequently improve investor confidence in Rwanda.

If successfully established, Rwanda will be the first country in the region to have an arbitration center. In early 90s, Kenya attempted establishing one, but it did not succeed.

Djibouti also lobbied to spearhead establishing a regional (COMESA) arbitration center but also failed.

The only successful arbitration center in Africa that has survived the test of time is in Egypt, which is manned under the auspices of the Asian Consultative Council.

Ghana also has an arbitration center but not delivering to its expectation as Egypt’s.

The government of Rwanda endorsed establishment of an arbitration centre and other alternative modes of commercial conflict resolutions.

And, because the country’s Vision 2020 envisages a private sector led economy, PSF was tasked to take a lead role in establishing the centre.

That in mind, PSF had to do its homework quite well to avoid falling in traps like those countries that attempted and failed. PSF then hired a prominent consultant who played an active role in crafting both the EAC and COMESA treaties called Daniel Ameyo.

On Friday July 11, PSF organized a half day stakeholders’ workshop at its headquarters in Gikondo to validate Ameyo’s draft report on— “Study of Promotion of Arbitration and Other Alternative Modes Commercial Conflict Resolution”.

The workshop, which was chaired by the PSF Secretary General, Emmanuel Hategeka was well attended by, among others; representatives of; development partners, legal practitioners, business leaders, representatives from government institutions and PSF Management.

In his introductory remarks, Mr. Hategeka said the approach PSF chose is to establish an arbitration center that not only serves Rwandan business community but also the region at large.

That is why PSF chose to engage Ameyo that has a wide experience in crafting regional legal treaties.

Hategeka said some commercial cases should be settled outside judicial courts.

“The arbitration center comes in handy to supplement the recently established commercial courts in handling a huge backlog of cases” he said.

In Ameyo’s PowerPoint presentation to a fully-packed audience in the PSF boardroom, he explained that arbitration relieves the judicial and state commercial courts of the civil cases to focus on big cases that the state has much interest—which in the end enhance efficiency.

Most importantly; expedite commercial justice. In essence, arbitration center and the various forms of Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADRs) augment each other.

In responding to questions raised by participants, Mr. Ameyo said establishing a fully fledged arbitration center will require big funding to start, and thus called for financial assistance from donors.

He clarified that an efficient center can be self-sustaining though, because the parties that seek arbitration are charged fees by the centre.

Hategeka informed participants that there’s already about $100,000 provided by World Bank that is accessible through the ministry of justice’s budget for the established of a fully fledged regional arbitration centre.

But warned, “We must expedite the process and launch the center within 3 months before World Bank retracts the fund because it has over delayed.”

The consultant advised that there’ll be need to build capacities of arbitrators consistently and establishing a bankable pool of good lawyers who can interpret the laws.

He underscored that Rwanda is just ideal for the centre because of its now competitive legal environment that is characterized by modern laws and reforms.

Finally, Ameyo will have to work on a detailed cost analysis and organisation structure of the center.

But will also have to meet with the association of lawyers in the country to generate more feedback before he finally presents the concept paper that will be used to establish the center—within three months from now.



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