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Jones Day advises the 17 African states of OHADA in the reform of their arbitration and mediation laws

November 2017

The global law firm Jones Day is advising the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa, OHADA, in reforming its arbitration act and creating a mediation act.

Founded in 1993, OHADA is an international organization based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, grouping together 17 member States from mostly French speaking Central and Western Africa. It aims to promote regional economic development through the harmonization of its Member States' business laws.

To date, OHADA has adopted 9 Uniform Acts, which apply in each of its Member States. The Uniform Act on Arbitration adopted in 1999 is one of these acts. OHADA also relies on its regional institutions, including the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration, CCJA, whose Arbitration Rules are also subject to this reform.

On 23 and 24 November, 2017, the 45th Ordinary Session of the OHADA Council of Ministers was held in Conakry, in the Republic of Guinea. The Council, composed of the Ministers of Justice and Finance of each of the 17 OHADA Member States, adopted three texts: the revised Uniform Act on Arbitration Law, the revised Rules of Arbitration of the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA), and a new Uniform Act on Mediation, the 10th Uniform Act of OHADA.

"We are proud to have been selected by OHADA following an international tender and to be involved in this historic initiative advising OHADA on reforming its arbitration legislation and enacting its first mediation law," said Michael Bühler, leader of the Firm's Paris Office Global Disputes Practice and head of the multidisciplinary team advising OHADA. "We believe this initiative will facilitate investment by assuring easier resolution of disputes."

Together with partner Rémy Fekete, who leads Jones Day's Africa Practice in the Firm's Paris Office, Mr. Bühler is listed among the top 20 business lawyers in Africa for 2016 by Jeune Afrique (a leading news magazine for French-speaking Africa).

The newly adopted texts are the result of an intense reform process. In October 2016, the Jones Day team first submitted an Evaluation Report to Professor Dorothé Cossi-Sossa, the Permanent Secretary of OHADA, that included 30 proposals for the revision of the Uniform Act on Arbitration Law and the Rules of Arbitration of the CCJA, and simultaneously introduced a Uniform Act on Mediation for the OHADA region. These proposals were based on field investigations in the region coupled with a benchmarking analysis of international best practices and a survey sent to more than 1,000 practitioners active in the region.

In early 2017, Jones Day submitted draft texts which have since been reviewed, discussed, and amended by local experts and representatives of the National Commissions of the OHADA Member States, in particular at working sessions held in Abidjan in March and July 2017. A final review of the texts took place at a plenary session of the National Commissions in November 2017 in Conakry and led to revisions reflecting the sovereign decisions of the Member States. The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) also took part in these discussions as technical experts. The draft texts have also been reviewed by the CCJA.

Jones Day was retained by OHADA as an Advisor for this project in March 2016. Led by Mr. Bühler, the core Jones Day team advising OHADA includes of counsel Pierre Heitzmann (Dubai) and associate Anne-Sophie Gidoin (Paris). Jones Day worked closely with Professor Barthélémy Mercadal of the Institut Français de Droit d'expression et d'Inspiration Françaises (IDEF) and Christian Hausmann, a professional mediator. The Firm is committed to supporting the Member States in the promotion of the new texts and the training of practitioners in the field.

"As a global law firm committed to advancing and promoting the rule of law around the world, we embrace the opportunity to contribute to the modernization of the dispute resolution system in Central and Western Africa and are proud of the Jones Day team's outstanding work," said Javade Chaudhri, Partner-in-Charge of Jones Day's Middle East/Africa Region.

Jones Day is a global law firm with more than 2,500 lawyers in 43 offices across five continents. The Firm is distinguished by: a singular tradition of client service; the mutual commitment to, and the seamless collaboration of, a true partnership; formidable legal talent across multiple disciplines and jurisdictions; and shared professional values that focus on client needs.

Michael Bühler (sitting front row 3rd from right) and Anne-Sophie Gidoin (standing front row 2nd from right) of the Jones Day team in charge of the project at the plenary meeting of OHADA National Commissions in Abidjan, Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, July 24, 2017.