The Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC) received 33 cases from July 2019 to June this year, highlighting yet another milestone for the dispute settlement institution.
The record included three emergency arbitration cases, according to KIAC.
Beyond Rwanda, the cases registered in the year 2019/20 came from eight countries including India, Singapore, Egypt, China, Kenya and France.
Overall, 67 per cent of the new cases were domestic in nature while 33 per cent were international.
KIAC says the increase in international cases is a statement of confidence that Rwanda is playing a key role in positioning Africa on the market of international arbitration, as well as its global appeal to users from diverse legal systems and cultures.
Launched in 2012, KIAC was established by the Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF) in partnership with the government.
Since then, about 160 cases have been submitted to the centre missioned to do commercial justice by the use of arbitration and other alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation and adjudication.
The biennial 2020 SOAS Arbitration in Africa Survey Report ranks KIAC amongst the top three arbitration centres that were chosen in Africa.
This, KIAC says, confirms that fact that it is now one of the leading arbitration institutions in Africa providing ADR services in both national and international contexts.
KIAC administers cases under its arbitration rules and those of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) arbitration.
The Secretary General of KIAC, Fidele Masengo, said the centre has achieved a “milestone”.
“When we compare our centre with many others that started around the same time with KIAC, we don’t have any other centre that has achieved such a big number of cases in eight years of its operation,” he said.
“It actually takes between one and five years for a newly established arbitration Centre to register its first case because people have to know the Centre, agree to use our arbitration clauses in their contracts and submit their claims to the Centre.”
On the eight-year journey, the Centre received cases from more than 20 nationalities including Burundi, China, Ethiopia, Egypt, France, India, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Singapore, Rwanda, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, USA, Zambia.
“Arbitration has been a fast solution to business people’s disputes without the need to go to courts,” said PSF Chairman Robert Bafakulera, adding, however, that more people still go for the judiciary due to lack of knowledge of the availability and benefits of arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution services.
More than 500 practitioners were trained by the UK-based Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, which has recently opened its branch in Rwanda known as CIArb.
According to Athanase Rutabingwa, the Chair of the Committee that is working on the establishment of the CIArb Rwanda branch, Rwanda now has the capacity to produce internationally certified arbitrators.
KIAC boasts a worldwide panel of experienced, credible and independent arbitrators.
Rutabingwa cited various advantages the service has to the normal court process.
“Arbitration by nature is supposed to be conducted in a very fast manner. For any business person whose case is done in an expeditious way, you get an award (ruling) in a short period. That saves you money and time,” he said.
Rutabingwa added in arbitration, parties have the prerogative to choose their arbitrator depending on their expertise. Both parties pay the fees of arbitrators and they make a schedule of their preference.
“It’s different from a court where every judge has to be a lawyer and not necessarily trained in any of the disciplines of the matter.”
Because there is no appeal for arbitration, a case that would take a number of years lagging in different court levels may be resolved even within months through arbitration.
Despite the mechanism’s upper hand, a large portion of the business community has not turned up for arbitration. Rutabingwa said there is a need to sensitize the public, noting that business of any type and size is cut for arbitration.
According to Masengo, it is remarkable that a high percentage of the KIAC awards were enforced within at least 3 to 6 months and not even one of these was set aside in the Rwandan courts. To him, the aspect signals trust in the judiciary while promoting Rwanda as an arbitration-friendly destination for services.
Currently, the Government is pushing a new policy that will increase accessibility of ADR services, enhance coordination and establish a holistic framework with stakeholder roles in the delivery of ADR services.
The Rwandan Judiciary published a list of 51 accredited mediators who are expected to slice of the number of cases ending up in trial and help reduce the case backlog in court.
With funding from DFID, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) has provided a grant to PSF to strengthen the centre, with activities aimed at improving its ability to conduct arbitration remotely because of Covid-19.
“This is expected to provide an improved mechanism for advocacy and active engagement on the legal environment and policy framework on arbitration and other Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms,” said Patience Mutesi, Country Director of TMEA.
As a result, KIAC has embraced virtual hearing, a key alternative to the travel restrictions around the world due to Covid-19.