The social and economic impact of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak will likely continue to have legal and access-to-justice implications for some time, giving rise to new disputes and delaying the progress of existing disputes before the courts. The depth of this crisis creates a need for parties and their legal representatives to consider focusing on rebuilding their business relationship, re-negotiating their existing contract, and finding alternative paths to resolving their conflicts, rather than insisting on strict enforcement of contractual terms. This may lead to more demand for arbitration, mediation, conciliation and other amicable methods of dispute resolution, as well as a combination of different dispute resolution processes.
The Coronavirus lockdown and social distancing measures which are in place in most countries around the world have affected our personal and working lives in one way or another and are exerting greater pressure on the arbitration community to find innovative ways to adapt through greater use of technology. In this regard, the Nairobi Center for International Arbitration (NCIA) has made great strides and has applied a Business Continuity Plan that gives priority to the safety and health of the NCIA staff and their families while servicing operations and containing the spread of the virus amid the pandemic. Measures in place include a minimal on-site function. In addition, respective tribunals, arbitrators, mediators or adjudicators with ongoing cases have been urged to consider applicable provisions of the NCIA Arbitration Rules (NCIA Rules) and to engage parties for possible remote e-enabled procedures, enlargement or extensions of time.
Administration of Disputes
Notwithstanding the pandemic, the NCIA has continued to administer nineteen (19) disputes and has panel-listed an additional seventeen (17) arbitrators and mediators with multiple skills for conducting arbitrations and mediations under the NCIA’s Rules. Furthermore, the NCIA has, together with a network of China-Africa Joint Arbitration Centres (CAJAC), developed and finalized a Constitution and Rules for arbitration of disputes of Sino-African origin registered with any of CAJAC’s five affiliate centers; the centres are in Johannesburg, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Nairobi. The CAJAC Constitution and Rules are up for adoption by CAJAC’s five affiliate centres and are destined to have a formidable impact on arbitration practices in the future.
Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution Conferences & Events
On the national front, just before the world was hit by the Covid-19 storm, the NCIA held its 2nd International Arbitration and ADR Conference in March 2020 under the theme “Tracking Africa’s Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms: It is Business Unusual”. The conference brought together speakers and participants from across the globe with the aim of tracking the progress made in arbitration and use of ADR mechanisms in Africa. Shortly thereafter, in an effort to adapt to the new normal, the NCIA began a monthly webinar series that has seen growth and participation by attendees and panelists from around the globe.
Development of a National Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Policy
The NCIA commenced the process of developing a National ADR Policy in conjunction with the Kenyan Judiciary and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). To this end, a zero draft National ADR Policy was developed and deliberated on by over 600 stakeholders. The zero draft National Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy was refined with input from the forums to produce the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy which was thereafter subjected to a national validation forum with wide representation stakeholders. The draft policy is currently before a National Steering Committee appointed by the Hon Attorney General to provide guidance and oversee the formulation of a national policy and institutional framework on ADR and propose appropriate reforms to the legal and institutional framework with a view to harmonizing the practices, standards of accreditation, training and provision of alternative dispute resolution services in Kenya.
The 2020 Arbitration in Africa Survey Report of top African arbitral centres and seats ranked the NCIA among the top five best arbitral centres in Africa in regard to the quality of support facilities and administrative staff. The NCIA ranked 8th among the top ten arbitral centres in Africa based on the number of arbitration cases administered and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) concluded with other arbitration centres. The report also ranked NCIA among the top five arbitral centres in Africa that users indicated they would recommend.
The NCIA has developed a training curriculum for both mediation and arbitration to increase capacity, skills and competences to mediators and arbitrators to enable them to provide a fair and efficient process. The calendar, which can be accessed by clicking here, highlights some of the courses offered at the NCIA.
The impact of COVID-19 is reaching far beyond what anyone has seen in recent years. Of paramount importance is the health and public safety impact the pandemic has had and will likely have in the future. Everyone has a duty to take recommended precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. As this duty also extends to those organizing and conducting arbitral proceedings, careful consideration of the impact of the virus on arbitration, and the measures which can be taken to halt its rapid spread, remain necessary. Going forward, we may see the drafting of notices, submissions, correspondence, pleadings, statements, and applications—which are traditionally document-only tasks being made electronic. Arbitral institutions may now deem it necessary to amend their rules and procedural regulations to align, complement and augment public health safety. It is now clear that any arbitration that is currently in progress will be impacted in some way by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is for disputing parties, their attorneys, and their respective arbitral tribunals to work together to sensibly try and identify and resolve those issues in an efficient and fair way that reflects the extraordinary situation the world finds itself in.
§ Nairobi Center for International Arbitration; Co-operative Bank House, 8th Floor, Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi Kenya. See:
 See, The Nairobi Center for International Arbitration (Arbitration) Rules 2015, available here (accessed August 14, 2020).
 Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy (Zero Draft), available at here (accessed August 14, 2020).
 Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy (Draft), October 2019, available here (assessed August 14, 2020).
 See, The National Steering Committee for Formulation of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy—Appointment, The Kenya Gazette, Vol. CXXII —No. 21, 31st January, 2020, available here