2 February 2013

Rwanda: Center Promotes Arbitration Courts

Kigali — Rwanda's Kigali international arbitration Centre (KIAC) will make a year since it's opening in February last year but it's yet to handle any dispute requiring arbitration.

Not that there are no commercial disputes in one of Africa's steadily growing economies that would require mediation, it's just that the culture of professional arbitration is one that is almost nonexistent and Government has determined to launch special measures to encourage it to courts of law.

"The major challenge is that the concept of Arbitration is fairly new and the existing contracts do not have arbitration clauses making it difficult for the KIAC to facilitate their implementation," explained KIAC's Secretary General, Bernadette Uwicyeza.

Because the tradition for decades has been that of suing an un-compliant party, contract drafters have not yet adapted to the idea of including clauses that would suggest options for dispute resolution such as arbitration.

The centre spent most of 2012 covering the width of the entire country meeting different groups of business people to increase awareness of a service which is cheaper, faster and more diplomatic in handling commercial disputes compared to the almost hostile atmosphere parties have to contend with during a legal battle.

These efforts involved countrywide Road Shows that were organized in partnership with Private Sector Federation (PSF), organizing arbitration programs for Judges, and a series of awareness and sensitization programs in local and international media continue to run.

"But both parties involved in a deal must agree on the onset of entering an agreement that should there be a dispute in the future, arbitration as a form of resolution would be used," explains the Centre's head, an experienced lawyer.

The problem however is contracts are not drafted by their owners rather by shrewd lawyers who not only earn more in courts but also through the 'adhoc arbitration' practice which has been filling the void of a professional and specialized arbitration services.

"The centre has met some resistance to Institutional arbitration by some lawyers who view KIAC as a competitor. These were using adhoc arbitration and operated in an informal way. However, KIAC is conducting sensitization campaigns and training them on the benefits of conducting arbitration with KIAC," reveals Uwicyeza.

In adhoc arbitration, lawyers can earn up to 10% of the total claim involved but it would be much lesser if the centre's services were used because the intent is to make the service not only cheaper for the business community but also increase access to justice.

In the country's EDPRS program phase two, arbitration has been made a priority service which will be promoted as a major government program to increase access to affordable means of justice for Rwandans.

In September last year, KIAC also submitted to the ministry of Justice in a provisional draft bill to amend the 2009 law governing arbitration and the bill's main purpose is to make the law much pro--arbitration by reducing court intervention.

With government backing, the bill is most likely to be supported as sources at the Justice Ministry already indicate that they have finalized the translation of the document into the three languages (Kinyarwanda, French and English) and are in plans of holding discussions with key stakeholders will before submission to the cabinet for approval.

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