1st African Conference on International Commercial Law
The First African Conference on International Commercial Law took place from the 13-14 January 2011 at the Meridien Hotel, Douala. During the two-day event, over 150 delegates discussed global legal standards in the fields of arbitration, international sales of goods and general contract law, such as those prepared by UNCITRAL and UNIDROIT, with a view to strengthening the framework for international trade law in Africa. The efforts of OHADA - the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa - a body which harmonises business laws in 16 Francophone countries (the Democratic Republic of Congo is in the process of joining) was part of the focus. The conference also offered to young researchers an opportunity to participate, thereby laying the cornerstone for future communication and cooperation among the young generations of jurists. A total of eight young researchers presented
papers on various areas of commercial law.
In her opening address, Dr. Martha Tumnde expressed sincere gratitude to the University of Basel for initiating and co-organising this important intellectual event with the University of Buea. She thanked the supporting organisations namely OHADA, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), UNIDROIT as well as conference sponsors: Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft, Max Geldner-Stiftung, Total and UNIDA/OHADA.com.

She was followed by Prof. Dr. Ingeborg Schwenzer LL.M., representative of the University of Basel, who expressed her wish to see the conference facilitate fruitful exchanges that will contribute to the improvement of the business climate in Africa. Both speakers expressed gratitude to the team that worked so hard to prepare the conference.

The Permanent Secretary of OHADA, His Excellency Mr. Boutora Takpa, and the representative of the Secretary General of UNCITRAL at the event, Mr. Luca Castellani, Legal Officer at UNCITRAL, both lauded this important initiative, describing it as a milestone on the way towards the development of commercial laws in Africa. Mr. Boutora called on the participants to make meaningful contributions that will enable OHADA to better carry out its mission of equipping Africa with reliable and efficient business laws. UNIDROIT offered the last opening address. The Secretary General was represented by Ms. Frederique Mestre, Senior Officer at UNIDROIT who praised the initiative, also wished all the participants much success and noted that she was looking forward to the expected high level of discussion.
This conference, in addition to contributing to the promotion of a sound business climate for business operators, enabled company managers, company legal advisers, legal practitioners, judges and other judicial actors to become acquainted with current developments in commercial law. Most importantly, it enabled participants to create fruitful
relationships among themselves, while providing a forum for a rich exchange between law experts.
The conference witnessed a high attendance from Cameroon and abroad. At the domestic level, it is worthy to mention the participation of high officials from OHADA, the Ministry of Justice, the Universities of Buea, Ngaoundere and Yaounde and the executives from local companies and law firms. Also, the conference witnessed participation of
other domestics and regional institutions such as the Harare arbitration centre in Zimbabwe, the national micro-finance of Tanzania, the Central Bank of Mauritania, the East African Community, the OHADA Regional School of Magistrate etc… Participants also came from renowned international organisations such as UNCITRAL and, UNIDROIT, and from international actors including universities, arbitration centres, and business groups. Twenty-three countries from five continents were represented at the conference.

At the end of the conference, there was a general feeling of satisfaction both from participants and organisers. In her closing speech, Dr. Tumnde congratulated speakers and young researchers on their brilliant performance. She challenged all of the participants to take the initiative and to push their respective governments into action, namely by ratifying relevant international conventions that can facilitate trade transactions and by creating a business-friendly environment. She also called on African States to enact laws in favor of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods and to ratify the UN Convention for the International Sale of Goods.

Prof. Schwenzer also expressed satisfaction for the entire organization of the conference. She thanked the organizing institutions, the supporting institutions and the sponsors. Dr. Tumnde and Prof. Schwenzer acknowledged the vital role played by Mr. Jean Alain Penda for the smooth conduct of the conference. They equally expressed gratitude to Mr. Djieufack Roland and Mr. Justin Melong for their active participation in the organization of the conference. Special mention was made of the Interpretation team from the University of Buea for their accurate and efficient services.

In an online article published by the London-based Global Arbitration Review GAR, Alison Ross reported:
Luca Castellani, a legal officer at the UNCITRAL secretariat in Vienna. Speaking to GAR after the conference, he said that he was “truly impressed by the delegates' keen interest in arbitration and substantive knowledge.”

“Based on the success of this event, more initiatives to promote arbitration in Africa would be welcome and would find fertile ground,” Castellani said. "On the legislative side, the benefits arising from coordinating laws at the national, regional and global levels are clear. It would also be desirable for more African countries to sign up to the New
York Convention soon.”
Jason Fry, the Secretary General of the ICC Court of Arbitration, gave a presentation on the role of arbitration in developing economies, emphasising the need for the judiciary’s support of this private disputeresolution mechanism. He told GAR that the delegates agreed that more training is needed to lift African lawyers’ knowledge of arbitral practice and of international instruments such as the New York Convention. "Court support for arbitration is also vital," he said.

Fry added: “Africa is exploring harmonisation and modernisation of its laws but there are many obstacles to overcome on this large continent: common versus civil law traditions, language and tribal differences, geography, infrastructure and money, to name but a few. It was encouraging to see that there are some dedicated and enthusiastic people working to overcome these challenges”.

The conference ended on January 14 at 5 PM followed by a dinner in a popular restaurant in Douala. During this dinner, the participants had the opportunity to enjoy African and European dishes and to witness the legendary hospitality of the Cameroonian population. In sum, the First African Conference on International Commercial Law was a great success because of the quality of the participants, the richness of the discussions, and the quality of the conference’s organization. Participants expressed their wish to return to Cameroon in the future for similar events.
Max Geldner-Stiftung MGS
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