In response to a weak take-up of domestic international arbitration institutions and practice within Africa, the African Arbitration Association (AfAA) has been established and is now looking to embed the sector on the continent. Rukia Baruti, secretary general at the AfAA, explains the goals, methods and demands the Association sees itself responding to.
What is the AfAA and what is its mission?
The AfAA is a non-profit association whose mission is to promote, encourage, facilitate and advance the use of international arbitration within the African continent. It aims to:
- act as a reference point on international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution activities pertinent to Africa
- facilitate and encourage the appointment of African international arbitration practitioners and the use of African arbitration institutions
- increase co-ordination among its members in respect to Africa-related international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution activities
- advance the use of international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as effective methods of resolution of disputes arising from Africa-related transactions
- support the provision of technical assistance, awareness-raising and capacity-building activities to African governments
- increase co-ordination in delivering technical assistance and capacity-building activities throughout the African continent
What was the background to the establishment of the AfAA?
For some time now, there has been a realisation among African arbitration practitioners that international arbitration is not sufficiently developed or equally utilised in all African countries. As a consequence, several initiatives had been established to raise awareness of, or to build capacity in international arbitration in African countries. However, the growing number of such initiatives resulted in a duplication of efforts due to a lack of co-ordination and/or co-operation.
Furthermore, the unequal utilisation of international arbitration in Africa is demonstrated by the fact that the number of qualified African international arbitration practitioners appointed in international disputes, and the number of African arbitration institutions administering international disputes, is disproportionately small compared to the total number of Africa-related international disputes.
The cumulative effect of a series of annual Arbitration in Africa conferences hosted by the School of Oriental and African Studies in 2015–18, and the work done by the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) Working Group on African Arbitral Practice, following the ICCA Congress held in Mauritius in May 2016, as well as the work done by other individuals and stakeholders, has facilitated the establishment of the AfAA.
What does your role as Secretary General involve?
My role as the Secretary General of the AfAA involves overseeing the work of the Secretariat, which is to ensure that the aims of the AfAA are met.
What is your background, and what other initiatives have you undertaken for the promotion of arbitration in Africa?
I have worked as an arbitration practitioner since 2006 when I practised law at SJ Berwin LLP in London (now King & Wood Mallesons). I also sit as an arbitrator and have sat in cases before the London Court of International Arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce and ad hoc arbitrations.
My commitment to promoting international law and arbitration with African lawyers stretches back to my co-founding of International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) in 2006 and to founding and managing Africa International Legal Awareness (AILA) in 2010. While ILFA involves providing secondments in international firms to African lawyers, AILA provides training in international economic laws with an emphasis on investment treaty law and investment arbitration. AILA also promotes recognition of international law expertise among African practitioners.
How do you see the future for African arbitrators and for international arbitration on the continent?
I am under no illusion as to the magnitude of the task that lies ahead for African arbitrators to ensure they get appointments, not only from African parties and African arbitral institutions, but also from non-African parties and institutions. However, I remain optimistic that we will increasingly become recognised as long as we continue to put in a lot of time and effort to promoting ourselves within the African continent.
When Africans eventually have confidence in and accept their own arbitration practitioners and arbitral institutions, appointing African arbitrators and arbitrating in Africa will become commonplace.
Interviewed by Julian Sayarer. The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.