Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Special courts expected in East Africa to arbitrate commercial disputes


Special courts expected in East Africa to arbitrate commercial disputes

Special courts expected in East Africa to arbitrate commercial disputes
Dr. Willy Mutunga. Photo credit: Kenya Law

Officials and legal experts attending a regional conference on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Nairobi said independent courts with trained manpower are required to arbitrate commercial disputes as regional integration gathers steam.

“Our justice systems should be reorganized to enhance their capacity to solve commercial disputes. Litigation through traditional courts is lengthy and holds back economic activities,” said Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) chairman Vimal Shah.

Cross-border trade in goods and services has triggered a spike in commercial disputes across the east African region. Shah regretted that a backlog of cases at the industrial courts and inadequate personnel has slowed down business transactions.

“As a region, we need to reform arbitration process in our courts to ensure parties involved in a commercial dispute obtain justice promptly. Investor confidence is bolstered if the justice system is transparent and fast,” he said.

Discovery of hydrocarbons and precious minerals across the east African region necessitates the establishment of special courts to arbitrate disputes. Shah emphasized that a strong legal framework is critical to prevent resource-based conflicts in east Africa.

“The discovery of oil and gas in particular has elicited turf wars pitting communities against investors and governments. A win-win situation can only be achieved through arbitration and consensus building,” Shah said.

He added that mega-infrastructure projects like roads, ports and railways could trigger disputes over compensation. The establishment of ADR mechanisms will position the east African region as an investment destination.

Kenya’s Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said investor confidence is bolstered by ADR, which has the potential to increase trade and investment in the region. He added that it is important that ADR mechanisms and systems be developed to facilitate local dispute settlement by local and foreign investors.

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice-chairman Laban Onditi noted that faster dispute resolution will spur investments and wealth creation in the region.

“We need to adopt innovative dispute resolution models to boost regional trade, investments and knowledge transfer,” Onditi said.

The two-day conference, starting on Thursday, attracted over 150 lawyers, judges, politicians, investors and other economic stakeholders from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi to find solutions to the economic, social and political challenges of the region. Participants at the meeting said access to justice remains a key indicator for development of any country globally, and a major challenge for developing countries particularly in Africa. 


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