Attorney General to build capacity on arbitration

The Office of the Attorney General announced that it is working to build its in-house capacity in handling trade and investment disputes and international arbitration cases.

At the sixth annual East Africa International Arbitration Conference held from August 30-31 at the African Union Conference Hall, Teka Gebrekidan, deputy attorney general, disclosed that his office is working to develop its internal capacity to handle disputes and arbitration cases. Teka told The Reporter that Ethiopia does not have the required institutional capacity and professionals who can handle international trade disputes and arbitration. “Ethiopia is attracting huge Foreign Direct Investment. There are a couple of cases coming up now. We have few Ethiopian professionals who specialised on international arbitration who live broad and in Ethiopia,” Teka said.

According to Teka, the Attorney general has established an advisory council where Ethiopian law practitioners advise the organization in identifying the gaps in the justice system. “Based on the feedback and recommendations of the council we will try to establish a better dispute resolution mechanism. We will study how we can have professionals who specialised on dispute resolution and arbitration. We will see how our lawyers can work with private law firms. So this conference is very timely for us,” he said.

Leyou Tameru, managing director and founder, International Arbitration Africa (IARB Africa), organizer of the East Africa International Arbitration Conference, told The Reporter that with the influx of FDI it is high time for Ethiopia to build an institutional capacity and train its professionals on dispute mechanism and international arbitration. “Mining firms, Independent Power Producers and many other international investment firms are coming to Ethiopia so we have many potential cases coming up,” Leyou said.

According to Leyou the lack of capacity in handling international arbitration cases is not a peculiar problem to Ethiopia but all African countries face the same challenge. Governments including Ethiopia use foreign representation in international arbitration cases. “They do not use a local firm because local firms do not have the experience in international arbitration courts. They keep using international firms. So we are stuck in a cycle. When are the local firms going to get international experience? Local firms should be able to partner with international arbitration law firms. The government should initiate that.”

Egypt has a commendable experience in this regard. The Government of Egypt, when it hires international law firms, makes a prerequisite for the firm to partner with a local law firm. Kenya started doing the same recently. Leyou believes that Ethiopia should follow the foot step of Egypt and Kenya. “We save a lot of money if we use local law firms. We do not even have law firms in Ethiopia what we have is law offices and we do not even have big law offices,” she said.

In the course of the conference panel of legal practitioners stated that with the implementation the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) African countries have to work on dispute resolution and international arbitration.

This year’s East African International Arbitration Conference focused on energy projects in the African continent. “African needs to know about mutual agreements, trade and investment agreements, and investment protocols,” Leyou said.

In the past year alone Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti had energy related disputes with the sum of claims amounting to close to a billion dollar. Kenyan government won a wind farm project case worth 300 million dollars. Rwanda has their first mining licence dispute. An American firm sued the Rwandese government in a court in Washington DC.

“There are more cases happening in Ethiopia. So it is very important to the country to train its own professionals and co-counsel with international law firms. Local law firms should work together with foreign law firms. We have to start the Ethiopianization process.”

Leyou said with the implementation of CFTA both the states and investment firms need legal protection.

She contends that African countries should consider having an African arbitration court. “When a dispute occurs the case goes to London, Paris or some other cities in Europe. It is expensive to travel to Europe. What about having an arbitration court in Africa? We have to find a seat in Africa in Addis Ababa, Nairobi or Kigali. We have to be able to bring it here. It is going to save us a lot of money.

The East Africa International Arbitration Conference was launched six years ago by IARB Africa. More than 250 delegates participated in this year’s summit drawn from Africa, the US and Europe. East Africa International Arbitration Conference is a networking and knowledge sharing plat form for African and non-African legal practitioners on dispute settlement and international arbitration. IARB organises similar regional summits in southern and western Africa and is currently working to launch in North Africa next year. It also runs an online data base related to international arbitration cases in Africa.

Kaleyesus Bekele

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