The West African International Arbitration Conference (WAIAC) charts the future of investment arbitration in Africa

25/04/2017
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More than 80 lawyers, international arbitration practitioners and government officials gathered in Abidjan from April 20-21 for a lively exchange of ideas and legal opinions. 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.

After thanking the event’s organizers and participants in his keynote address, Vincent Nmehielle, Secretary General of the African Development Bank, remarked, “This conference is timely, as Africa is increasingly becoming the destination of choice for foreign investors. Investors economists and development practitioners are in agreement that Africa is the last frontier of global socio-economic development.”

The Secretary General outlined that the expected 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 made in Addis Ababa in 2015: “It has become imperative that such gatherings begin to brainstorm in ways that a continental arbitration centre 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, facilitating 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 into 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 the subject of Côte 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 its selection of speakers – notably Chief Bayo Ojo, Former Attorney General of The Federal Republic of Nigeria; Gaston Kenfack, President of the 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, and many more.

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 Côte d’Ivoire, the International Centre for Arbitration and Mediation in Abuja, and Global Business Solutions Africa.