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More than 80 lawyers, international arbitration practitioners and government officials gathered in Abidjan last week in a lively exchange on the future of investment arbitration in Africa. Held from 20 -21 April, the West African International Arbitration Conference (WAIAC) provided a platform for both African legal firms and government institutions to promote their work, network with peers in the industry and deepen their understanding of emerging challenges in the field of international arbitration.
“This conference is timely, as Africa is increasingly becoming the destination of choice for foreign investors,” AfDB Secretary General, Vincent Nmehielle, said in keynote speech in which he commended the organisers and attendees for their meaningful contributions at the meeting. “Investors and development practitioners are in agreement that Africa is the last frontier of global socio-economic development,” he noted.
The Secretary General noted that the projected increase in Africa’s share of global investments will indeed involve complex legal and economic arrangements, and as a result, will also involve disputes, which we must prepare for. He ended his address by repeating the call he had made in Addis Ababa in 2015: “It has become imperative that such gatherings begin to brainstorm in ways that a continental arbitration center can be established in Africa.”
This two-day event is the first of its kind and was organized by International Arbitration Africa (I-ARB), with the support of the African Development Bank Group and the African Legal Support Facility. Each coming year, I-ARB will organize the WAIAC in a different country in West Africa, to facilitate a comprehensive, region-wide discussion on issues including investment arbitration and Bilateral Investment Treaties negotiations. Held in both French and English, the conference is designed to include both Francophone and Anglophone African practitioners’ in West Africa in the dialogue on international arbitration on the continental scale.
“As African countries aim to attract foreign direct investment for economic development while maintaining key national interests, a discussion on the existing mechanisms for dispute resolutions for these investments is important,” explained Leyou Tameru, the founder and director of I-ARB.
Beginning with presentations on Cote d’Ivoire’s investment climate and expanding to include transnational challenges faced throughout the region, the Conference not only provided an opportunity to address persisting questions and challenges facing African countries, arbitrators and law firms, but furthermore succeeded in igniting debates and conversations that will certainly lead to change, due in part to highly articulate speakers notably, Bayo Ojo, former Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Gaston Kenfack, President of UNCITRAL, Flora Dalmeida Mele, President of the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration, Kehinde Daodu, Partner at Babalakin & Co., Charles Nairac, Partner at White and Case, among others.
In addition to the support by the African Development Bank Group and the African Legal Support Facility, the conference was sponsored by African and international law firms: Babalakin & Co., Strachan Partners, White & Case LLP, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and Stephenson Harwood LLP. The conference also benefited from the partnership of the Association for the Promotion of Arbitration in Africa, the Court of Arbitration of Cote d’Ivoire, the International Centre for Arbitration and Mediation in Abuja, and Global Business Solutions Africa.
Key words: Arbitration, Investment, treaties, foreign Direct Investment, Court of Arbitration, West Africa.