The first week of June saw the Chamber Trade Sweden team conducting two workshops with the Zimbabwean and Zambian National Chambers of Commerce. These focused on the state of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) in both countries in order to assess the local ADR capacity and find ways to increase access to justice.
Increased trade is the driver for economic development in much of Africa. Dispute resolution is critical to trade. It lowers the risk of trade disputes and allows for a much more efficient resolution to commercial conflict. In many African countries this essential component is mostly absent – either through a lack of awareness, a lack of access to services or due to the costs of the existing services.
The result is that both domestic and regional trade is inhibited and the reality is that it is the smaller, broader base of traders who are hit the hardest.
The workshops were designed and facilitated by Peace Systems, which has been working with Chamber Trade Sweden to build ADR capacity in partner chambers.
“The workshops showed, without doubt, that the need for ADR services in both countries was high. They also clearly demonstrated the need for chambers of commerce to take a leading role in making ADR services accessible to local businesses,” said Charlotte Kalin, CEO of Chamber Trade Sweden.
The workshops included a diverse cross section of local stakeholders such as the Ministries of Justice, the local legal fraternity, local business – both large and small, NGOs and even some local churches.
“It was important for us to have all the necessary local stakeholders be a part of these workshops. Whatever solutions are designed, they must be reached through consensus and with the support and buy-in of the local communities, business and government,” explained Peace Systems Executive Director, Nomfundo Walaza.
It was interesting to note that the legislative ADR framework in Zimbabwe was fairly advanced and that the Arbitration Act number 6 of 1996 stood the country in good stead to adopt a progressive culture of dispute resolution.
The recurring comments from the attendees in the Harare workshop, however, showed that there was a general lack of awareness of alternate dispute resolution and that the services that did exist remained costly for the smaller businesses.
The Zambian workshop heard that the local legal fraternity had already had training in ADR and that the biggest challenge in the country was to convince business to make use of ADR services. It was suggested that the use of mediation and arbitration clauses in commercial contracts would go a long way to ensuring conflicts were resolved through ADR mechanisms rather than moving straight to the courts, which were struggling with backlogs.
Comments from the workshops showed that commercial disputes within the construction, consumer and agricultural space were numerous. But it was also interesting that both Zimbabwe and Zambia were struggling with a large number of land disputes. These are often lengthy and can leave the disputants financially vulnerable while they are being resolved. The need for a trusted and reputable settlement mechanism was clearly communicated by attendees.
Both the Zimbabwean and Zambian national chambers committed to working more closely with existing ADR structures to increase access to and awareness of ADR in their countries.
“The consensus from both workshops was that the national chambers of commerce were excellently positioned to take up the role of ADR champion in their countries. The benefits of having a trusted, neutral organization, like a chamber, coordinating and providing ADR services was warmly received by the local stakeholders. The next steps will be to work with both chambers to formulate a plan of action and timeframes for delivery,” said Charlotte Kalin.
The workshops in Harare and Lusaka form part of the bigger ADR initiative run by Chamber Trade Sweden. The ultimate goal is to see a network of sister dispute settlement centres, housed within chambers of commerce. This will not only significantly lower the risks of doing business in the participating countries, but will form closer ties between the chambers – boosting trade opportunities for their members and ensuring access to justice for both the broader society as well as vulnerable smaller businesses.
Cape Chamber of Commerce