In its Centenary year, the ICC’s International Court of Arbitration has set servicing African commercial disputes as one of its top strategic priorities. Speaking as the 7th ICC Africa Conference on International Arbitration prepares to kick off in Lagos at the end of this month, (31 May to 2 June), ICC Court President Claudia Salomon said “Our aim is for the African business community to see the ICC Court as their go-to partner for dispute prevention and resolution. And as we invest in, develop and deliver this strategy we are determined to include local voices, rather than impose our own ideas as a foreign institution. This conference will be hugely significant in placing arbitration, and our particular brand of it, centre-stage for the handling of African commercial disputes”.
To date, a large proportion of African parties participating in arbitration have been states rather than companies: 50% in 2021, which is much higher than the global average of 20%. Whilst this is good news in terms of engagement by local decision-makers, the ICC Court is working hard to get the message out to African businesses about the benefits of arbitration for them: independence, neutrality, and the assurance of enforceability of an award. This is exactly what the African business community looks for when facing disputes.
“If parties are persuaded to use arbitration, our next challenge is communicating why they should opt for the ICC Court’s framework. It’s about creating awareness, but more importantly it’s about building trust”, Ms Salomon says. “We want the African business community to see the ICC Court as their disputes resolution provider of choice.” The ICC Court believes it is essential to have a significant presence on the continent, creating a dialogue with local communities and engaging in a range of languages. Indeed this is one of the ICC Court’s key points of difference from other arbitral institutions around the world. They describe it as their ‘Glocal’ offering:
“-closer local support than other providers, through dedicated case managers in your region, in your time zone and in your language,
-together with a unique global perspective that comes from being part of the largest business organisation in the world”.
The ICC Court set up its Africa Commission in 2018 and in 2021 appointed its first Regional Director for Africa, Diamana Diawara (previously the Commission’s Secretary). That same year the Court launched its Hold the Door Open initiative which gives young African lawyers practical experience of arbitral hearings (which are usually closed to outsiders). The ICC Court now has 27 African members.
Already there are clear signs the strategy is working: From 2020 to 2021, the number of African parties participating in arbitration has increased 13%, their calls on ICC Court expertise increased by 50% and their use of ICC mediation spiked by an astonishing 166%.
But the Court’s ambitions for the region continue. There is lots more it wants to achieve, and this Conference creates the perfect platform to get the message out and enable them to engage further with the African business community.