Africa has traditionally relied on litigation for dispute resolution, but there is a growing trend toward the use of alternative mechanisms such as arbitration and mediation. Notably, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Rwanda have established arbitration centres, with Cairo and Johannesburg being recognised as the most popular arbitral seats on the continent, according to a 2020 survey conducted by SOAS University of London.
Mediation is also gaining traction in countries such as Kenya, which recently introduced mandatory court-annexed mediation as part of its broader alternative dispute resolution framework. This gives the courts discretionary powers to send certain disputes to a mediator and will help to reduce backlogs in the court system.
Africa Legal recently interviewed leading dispute lawyers either based in Africa or who typically work on Africa-related matters to discuss key trends impacting the development of the continent’s alternative dispute resolution landscape.
Governments Seek to Keep African Disputes in Africa
While arbitral seats often remain outside the continent, some African countries are increasingly being seen as viable choices for arbitration venues.
African governments are increasingly concerned about arbitration costs and perceptions that they won’t be treated fairly by arbitration centres outside the continent…There is a political desire to repatriate disputes to Africa and ensure that at least between African parties, they can agree to house their disputes in a neutral seat within the continent…“That can result in significant cost savings and give reassurance that parties won’t face bias against them for being African.” – Aisha Abdallah, Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution at Anjarwalla & Khanna (ALN firm in Kenya)
With this in mind, African governments and parties are seeking more choice and flexibility regarding arbitration seats and venues. While the seat might be a traditional institution such as the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) or the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), there is an increasing trend for the venue to be in Africa.
The Race is on to become Africa’s Top Arbitration Hub
Several jurisdictions are vying to be the go-to arbitration centre in Africa for instance countries such as Nigeria is in the process of enacting a new arbitration and conciliation act, while Sierra Leone passed a new arbitration law.
“There is a desire to create an environment and a legal structure that keeps the resolution of disputes that arise in Africa, or are connected to Africa, in Africa… “We’re seeing a number of jurisdictions make revisions and amendments to current arbitration laws to ensure they are reflective of current realities and are comparable to countries like the US and the UK.” – Olujoke Aliu, Managing Partner at Aluko & Oyebode (ALN firm in Nigeria)
This push to strengthen the arbitration and broader dispute resolution backdrop is driven by the need to improve access to justice and encourage foreign direct investment so that investors feel comfortable if a dispute arises.
Africa is witnessing a transformative shift in its dispute resolution landscape, with a growing emphasis on arbitration and mediation. As governments strive to repatriate disputes, foster cost-effectiveness, and build confidence in the fairness of proceedings, the continent is becoming a competitive hub for resolving legal conflicts. With ongoing efforts to strengthen legal frameworks and align with global standards, Africa is poised to enhance access to justice and attract foreign investment through a resilient and adaptable dispute resolution system. The evolving dynamics signal a promising future for a continent proactively shaping its legal landscape to meet contemporary realities.
This article was first published by Africa Legal.