Better Dispute Resolution key to opening up Africa opportunity

As the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)’s Court of Arbitration celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, President Claudia Salomon describes the organisation’s African ambition: to become the number one choice for dispute resolution and prevention services for African businesses – and to establish a major presence on the continent.

A first focus for the Court’s Africa outreach has been selling the benefits of arbitration per se: ie articulating the confidence it gives businesses trading across borders, knowing that any disputes will be handled fairly, (ie in a forum that is neutral, independent and free from political bias), and that any decisions will be easier to enforce.  Indeed the concept has been gaining traction for some time as Africa’s economies have grown, with local arbitration centres emerging, such as the Cairo Regional Centre for Justice and Arbitration and the Kigali International Arbitration Centre.

Next, selling the ICC Court’s particular brand of arbitration has been key, spelling out how it scores over rivals. “The core identity of ICC arbitration, is its ‘glocal’ approach (which other arbitral institutions don’t offer)”, says Ms Salomon. “We bring a ‘global perspective’ that comes from the Court being part of the largest business organisation in the world (the International Chamber of Commerce, which has 45 million members in more than 130 countries), and at the same time we offer ‘local’ case managers who speak the same language as parties, live in the same time zone and come from the same business culture.  On top of this, every ICC arbitral award goes through an additional layer of ‘scrutiny’, making sure the reasoning of any decision is clear, to optimise enforceability. Together with the independence and neutrality that ICC arbitration brings, and the superior case management detailed above, this assurance of greater enforceability of decisions meets the core needs and desires of the African business community”.

The ICC’s focus on the region in the last few years has already paid off: African parties using ICC arbitration increased 13% from 2020 to 2021 alone, calls on its expertise jumped 50% in the same period and use of its mediation services leaped 166%.

Discussing the Court’s African ambitions, Ms Salomon emphasised that the ICC plans to rely on local voices as it plans its growth in the region, rather than imposing ideas from outside, because expansion is “being driven by, and meets the needs of, Africa and Africans themselves.” The ICC launched its original Africa Commission in 2018, making sure at this time that the continent had its own voice in the growth of arbitration and how the ICC should expand its range of activities. In 2021 the Commission’s secretary Diamana Diawara was appointed Regional Director for Africa. At this moment the organisation also announced its Hold the Door Open initiative, designed to develop the capacity of young arbitration practitioners by giving them rare opportunities to observe arbitration hearings, either virtually or in person. The goal is to train future leaders amongst African practitioners, leveraging on the expertise, experience and resources of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and ICC Dispute Resolution Services networks. The initiative has been highly successful, with 27 African members now part of the Court, higher than in any other region.