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Africa Connected: COVID-19 and the evolution of dispute resolution

Issue 5

COVID-19 and the evolution of dispute resolution in Africa is the theme of this edition of Africa Connected. We have articles on issues ranging from third party funding and its implications in African disputes, to the use of virtual hearing platforms across the continent. Jurisdiction-specific articles cover how the pandemic has affected legal practitioners - and the court system - in Burundi, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

In this issue

Litigation funding in Africa: Maximizing opportunities

Third-party funding is not new; however, it is about to enter a period of unprecedented global growth – notably in Africa. The measures implemented by governments in response to COVID-19, coupled with the rapid economic downturn and ongoing uncertainty arising from the pandemic, have created the perfect storm. The outlook may seem bleak, but third-party funding offers a ray of hope for beleaguered boardrooms looking to maximize cashflow in this unpredictable period.

The time is now for continental unity in African dispute settlement

Africa is on the cusp of what could be a break in a decades-long cycle of poverty and economic shortcomings. Whether this cycle will be broken depends on the ability of African nations to put in place policies that attract and protect foreign and intra-African investment. These policies must demonstrate to investors that the rule of law will be upheld; that equitable, local dispute settlement is possible; and that potential gains will be greater than the risks involved. The enactment of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) was a huge step in the right direction. This agreement lays a solid foundation for increased intra-African trade in both goods and services and looks to build on the collective strengths of African nations and African citizens.

A timely intervention: A drafter’s perspective on the Protocol on Virtual Hearings in Africa

Concerned about the effects if the COVID-19 pandemic on Africa’s dispute resolution landscape, the Association of Young Arbitrators (AYA), bringing together arbitration practitioners in Africa under 40 years of age, launched its Protocol on Virtual Hearings in Africa (the Protocol) in April 2020. AYA was formed in 2015 with the mission to provide a platform for the young members of the African arbitration community to meet, exchange ideas and learn from peers and more experienced arbitrators and arbitration practitioners.

Africa rising: Virtual hearings in international arbitration

It took a global pandemic to disrupt the practice of litigation and arbitration. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal community was dabbling in the use of virtual hearings in certain parts of the world. However, the imposition of national lockdowns, strict social distancing measures and travel restrictions has forced lawyers to move away from the comfort of traditional, in-person hearings, towards new-age virtual hearings held on electronic platforms.

Technology and the future of dispute resolution

Technology has transformed our society to a point where we can hardly imagine modern life without it. Technology affects the way we interact with one another, including regarding dispute resolution: it either generates new kinds of disputes which arise out of the new capabilities it offers, or it can help in the resolution of disputes. In this article we focus on how technology can assist in the resolution of disputes and how it can be leveraged in terms of promptness and efficiency.

Opportunities of big data in law

The proliferation of mobile phone networks has transformed communications in sub-Saharan Africa and has allowed Africans to skip the landline stage of development and jump right to the digital age. Today, cellphones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the US.1 African markets have clearly shown their willingness to adopt technology and adjust how it works to take advantage of the benefits it offers.

Zimbabwean courts: Catching up to the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global shift in the way people work all over the world. There has been greater emphasis on virtual working, putting immense pressure on countries that were not prepared to shift to working virtually in important areas of the economy, with a big spotlight being on the courts. In Zimbabwe, the courts have been upgrading, albeit slowly, over time and in the midst of this pandemic the much-anticipated Commercial Division of the High Court became operational. This article will focus on the changes brought about by the new Commercial Division Rules and discuss how far Zimbabwe has to go before it catches up to the future.

Civil lawsuits in Burundi during COVID-19

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. COVID-19 has spread worldwide, and the Republic of Burundi has adopted preventive measures that have affected institutions’ activities in different ways.

COVID-19: The effects on dispute resolution in Nigeria

Limited hearings, long adjournments, and restricted access to the courtrooms are some of the major effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the delivery of justice in Nigeria. These issues have changed judges’ and lawyers’ attitudes towards the use of technology. Only very few cases have been heard or filed remotely, but several legal frameworks have been adopted to make them work. The journey to full adoption will be slow but it has already started.