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Eighth East Africa International Arbitration Conference: day one report

The eighth edition of the East Africa International Arbitration Conference, which was originally due to take place in Zanzibar, has now been re-organised as an entirely virtual event taking place between 26 to 28 August 2020.

Reports for days two and three of the conference will follow.

Day one of the conference commenced on 26 August with a career day programme. After brief welcome remarks from Wairimu Karanja, a member of the EAIAC Committee, the first session, entitled Careers in Arbitration I – Advice for young and aspiring practitioners, kicked off with Madeline Kimei, (IResolve, Tanzania) as moderator and an esteemed panel comprising Madina Chenge (DLA Piper Africa (IMMA Advocates), Tanzania), Andrew Maclay (Secretariat, UK), Ahmad Rufai Khalid (NNPC, Nigeria) and Dr Emilia Onyema (SOAS-University of London, UK). The diverse panel brought together a plethora of perspectives ranging from that of private practice lawyers, experts, and academics, to in-house counsel.

Ms Kimei shared her views on the primary reasons for the increasing preference for arbitration as the choice of dispute resolution method with respect to investments in Africa: party autonomy, procedural flexibility, neutrality and confidentiality. Mr Maclay then provided some insights as to the role of experts in global arbitration practice, including his optimism for more tribunal-appointed experts in the future. Mr Khalid followed on with some remarks from the perspective of in-house counsel at Nigeria’s national petroleum company, including the challenges faced by users of arbitration, notably in enforcement of awards. Finally, Dr Onyema, as an established and well-respected figure in the academic world, sounded a hopeful note for aspiring arbitration practitioners by expressing that, for those interested in embarking on their international arbitration journey, this practice can be picked up by anyone with the right attitude and diligence, at any stage of their career .

After a virtual networking break, the second session, also in relation to advice for young and aspiring practitioners, commenced with Mercy Okiro (CIArb UK YMG) moderating a panel comprising Lawrence Ngugi (Nairobi Centre for International Arbitration, Kenya), Leah Njoroge (ICSID, US), Folake Sadiq (CIArb, UK) and Prof Dr Mohamed S. Abdel Wahab (Zulficar & Partners, Egypt). The panel brought together perspectives from arbitral institutions as well as young and experienced arbitrators.

From the perspective of NCIA, a major arbitral institution in Africa, Mr Ngugi first discussed what he considered are the qualities appreciated by institutions in both hiring case management counsel and appointing arbitrators to NCIA’s panel; these include language skills, academics and training in the field of arbitration, as well as soft skills. He then went on to elaborate on ways in which institutions can engage aspiring practitioners, such as (as NCIA has done) organising moot competitions for university students, with winning teams being given the opportunity to connect with law firms or even attend specialist courses, giving students a chance to enter the arbitration “ecosystem”.

Ms Njoroge then took the (virtual) floor by presenting an overview of ICSID, before sharing what a day as an ICSID counsel is like, from drafting procedural orders and case summaries to getting involved in policy projects such as the amendment of the ICSID Rules. Ms Njoroge also memorably shared the 3 “E”s that young and aspiring practitioners should keep in mind: exposure, experience and excellence.

Professor Wahab then gave junior members of the audience advice on succeeding in the field by drawing on his wealth of experience; notably, he emphasised the importance of patience and the need to build up knowledge and substantive skills as a lawyer, rather than only focussing on social or networking opportunities.

Finally, Ms Sadiq discussed the issue of mentorship, which has been a trending topic in recent times. Ms Sadiq considered mentorship extremely important, but not the only way to gain experience, suggesting that it is equally important to be connected to a network of peers with whom young practitioners can find more support and common ground. Ms Okiro then wrapped up the session with some interesting Q&A topics from the audience.

The final session of the day took the form of a roundtable moderated by Ms Karanja. A panel of young and dynamic panellists comprising Amanda Lee (Seymours, UK), Ngo-Martins Okonmah (Aluko & Oyebode, Nigeria), Folake Sadiq (CIArb, UK), James Ngotho Kariuki (DLA Piper Africa (IKM Advocates), Kenya) and Mercy Okiro (CIArb UK YMG), took the floor in a discussion centred around initatives available to young practitioners to aid career progression.

Ms Lee opened with an overview of the project, Careers in Arbitration, which offers access to opportunities in arbitration for the next generation of practitioners. The offering, which is available by searching for #careersinarbitration on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, collates relevant vacancies, internships, events, publishing opportunities and writing competitions. Mr Okonmah introduced the Association of Young Arbitrators (AYA) and the Africa Arbitration Academy. Their primary aim is to develop young practitioners’ skills so that they can be represented in the global arbitration community.

AYA creates thought leadership, such as a protocol on virtual hearings in Africa, as well as a mentorship programme in which upcoming arbitrators are paired with leaders in the field. The Africa Arbitration Academy was launched in 2019 in conjunction with 15 city firms in London, including Stephenson Harwood, as well as arbitration institutions such as the ICSID, ICC and LCIA, and delegates of the three-week programme met with renowned arbitrators and participated in a variety of seminars. Ms Sadiq, Mr Kariuki and Ms Okiro also discussed offerings of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators’ Young Members Group (YMG), which include a platform showcasing the work of young and aspiring practitioners, helping them to increase their visibility. Ms Okiro concluded the session by emphasising the importance of showing initiative and being as involved in the community as possible.

After some closing remarks by Ms Karanja, the conference wrapped up its first day with much positive feedback from the attendees shared through the virtual chat.

Thank you to Daniel Boon, trainee solicitor at Stephenson Harwood, for his contribution to this post.

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