Announced during Paris Arbitration Week, AfricArb held its launch event in Paris on 14 June 2018. Dr Gregory Travaini, Senior Associate in Herbert Smith Freehills’ Hong Kong office, and co-founder of AfricArb, reports.

AfricArb is a non-profit organisation of young practitioners who share a common ambition to further the development of arbitration as an efficient and accessible method of dispute resolution on the African continent. According to AfricArb, the promotion of arbitration in Africa will have to be based on three main pillars: (i) the continued modernisation of arbitration rules and practice, (ii) a respect for the diversity of legal cultures on the African continent; and (iii) the involvement of actors inside and outside the continent, who will provide training and events to facilitate an exchange of views, information and knowledge.

AfricArb’s inaugural event was hosted by IHEI (Institute of Higher International Studies, University Paris II Panthéon-Assas) on 14 June 2018. The roundtable’s theme was “Arbitration in Africa: quo vadis?”. The discussion panel was: Me Marie-Andrée Ngwe (President of the GICAM Arbitration Centre), Professor Mohamed S. Abdel Wahab (Zulficar & Partners), Dr Emilia Onyema (School of Oriental and African Studies, London) and Professor Makane Moïse Mbengue (University of Geneva).

The discussion started with an introduction to the newest arbitration legislation and major projects in Africa, including Africa’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It then focused on the increasing number of African states that have recently incorporated the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration in their national arbitration frameworks. Attention was drawn to the approach taken by an increasing number of African countries of offering protections outside the realm of bilateral investment treaties, thus enhancing Africa’s appeal for foreign investors.

It was noted that African States are now considered “rule makers”, and no longer the mere “consumers” of norms that they have been in the past. Speakers emphasised the steps taken towards the “africanisation” of international arbitration, with the creation of new rules at both regional and continental levels.

The recent findings of the SOAS Arbitration in Africa Survey Report were then presented. While there is admittedly a lack of expertise in certain parts of the continent, the results of the survey show that there is also extensive expertise in and outside the African continent. It was suggested that the day non-African parties appoint African arbitrators and counsel, there will be no doubt as to the legitimacy of the international arbitration system. There are sufficient cases (since arbitration matters with an African dimension are on the rise), and sufficient talented people, to appoint Africans without compromising on quality.

Finally, the audience was guided through the new reforms of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA), and the role of the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (see our earlier blog). Whether these reforms will trigger an increase in case load remains to be seen.

The floor was opened twice to questions during the panelists’ presentations. Attendees discussed and debated with the panel, notably on the “africanization” of arbitration, and more specifically the nomination of African arbitrators. It was generally concluded that reform can come only from the parties themselves… As Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler points out: “if Africans do not appoint Africans, how do we expect non-Africans to have confidence to appoint Africans?”