Are our arbitration centres being used as they should?

In today’s globalized world, we are left with no choice but to deal with other countries and economies; whether it is selling our commodities, buying goods, services or technologies from others, we must enter into relationships based on agreements.

In today’s globalized world, we are left with no choice but to deal with other countries and economies; whether it is selling our commodities, buying goods, services or technologies from others, we must enter into relationships based on agreements.

These relationships do not always have a happy ending. Disputes do arise and have to be resolved.

 

We all agree that arbitration or similar alternative dispute methods are a better avenue of resolving those disputes than litigation in national courts – largely because of the expertise, the confidentiality, the finality of decisions, easier enforcement and other factors that characterize Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

 

We must therefore be well prepared and on top of our game to better address such.

 

Africa is on the move. After lost decades of ‘sleeping’ and being robbed in daylight or dissipating our human and material resources in unnecessary and sometimes proxy conflicts, we are finally trying to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of development.

We are finally harnessing and exploiting our natural resources, investing in our people through education and health and generally taking control.

There are signs of progress in Africa and in Eastern Africa in particular, evidenced by mushrooming infrastructures, exploitation of energy resources, minerals, modernizing our agriculture, advancement in communication technologies, modern tourism facilities etc.

However, Africa does not have all it takes to be self-sufficient at the moment. We still need some expertise and technologies from outside to fully develop our economies. Hence the need to attract investors and work with them.

But as I said, not all investment arrangements go the way we want and we must be prepared for disputes. It is therefore encouraging that lawyers are talking a lot about investment and how to deal with investment disputes.

Lawyers have to advise the state and other actors on contracts so they are not unfair to us. They have to prepare for battle in resolving disputes that might arise and which are often quite complex.

Equally important are conversations on the potential of developing international arbitration as a money maker for the EAC and Africa, by avoiding or reducing the cost of arbitration proceedings when they take place out of the region or the continent and by increasing the trust of investors in our regional disputes settlement mechanisms.

In fact, this highlights the importance of arbitration in Africa and in the EAC region not only as a dispute resolution mechanism between individuals or legal entities but also as a booster of the regional economy.

The question to ask is whether arbitration is being used as much as it should in Africa and East Africa. Are our arbitration centres being used as they should? If not, why not?

Is it the cost of arbitration? Are the fees too high? Is it lack of confidence in the arbitration processes? How equipped are our arbitration centres? Are we investing enough to make them attractive to potential users?

We must make our arbitration institutions, centres of excellence manned by competent personnel and with a pool of expert arbitrators and counsel if we are to be globally competitive and avoid the unaffordable expense of going to Paris or London or New York.

Rwanda Judiciary is committed to supporting every initiative aimed at strengthening the use of ADR.

We have been supporting Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC) in its efforts to establish itself as a credible and attractive centre for arbitration and we promise that our courts and judges will continue to play a crucial role in the arbitration process.

From what I gather, none of the awards issued by KIAC has been set aside. We believe that courts should always be slow in interfering with arbitral awards.

I hope our lawyers have similar success in other EA countries. Our courts have an important role to play in the arbitration process but only a supporting role such as granting interim protective measures or reviewing procedural irregularities. We shall continue this support.

I understand that KIAC are celebrating 5 years of remarkable achievements. As we celebrate this, it is good that we take this opportunity to take account of what has happened in the past few years and also deliberate on what more we can do to improve ADR as a tool for promoting investment as well as access to justice.

This article was extracted from the remarks by Chief Justice Prof. Sam Rugege at the 5th East African International Conference held in Kigali last week.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.

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