I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Woubshet Ayele, Secretary General of the Ethiopian Arbitration and Conciliation Centre (the “EACC”). Mr. Ayele is a former member of Ethiopia’s High Court judiciary and an experienced general practitioner. He held various legal positions with both the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice and as in-house counsel for a large private corporation before founding the EACC in 2004. He is also one of the founders of Ethio-Parents School, one of the best elementary schools, high schools, and college preparatory schools in the country.
The EACC was established as a non-profit organization under Ethiopia’s Civil Code in August of 2004. One of the primary objectives of the organization is to promote and facilitate the use of alternative dispute resolution in Ethiopia. Other objectives of the organization include:
- To conduct training for arbitrators, conciliators and mediators
- To cater to the needs of the community by assisting with the resolution of commercial, family, estate, contract, tort, and labour disputes
- Where appropriate, to encourage the participation of foreign arbitrators or mediators in the resolution of disputes
Litigation in Ethiopia can be both emotionally and financially draining, with disputes dragging on for years and the cost of legal redress rising with the progress of the case. The EACC endeavors to address these shortcomings, which unfortunately clog the formal legal system. Arbitration and mediation allow parties to have direct involvement in the resolution of their cases and encourage them to settle their disputes within a reasonable period, without incurring unnecessary costs.
Traditional Methods of Dispute Resolution
Ethiopia is a nation of diverse languages, religions, and cultures. Each group has its own traditional methods of resolving family, civil, and criminal conflicts. These dispute resolution mechanisms involve an elder of the community investigating and facilitating the resolution of disputes. The majority of these conflicts are settled, as the fear of social isolation that may otherwise ensue is a strong motivating factor. In a country where 85% of the population lives in rural areas, survival often depends on belonging to a community. Traditional methods of dispute resolution also exist in urban areas where prominent leaders may be called upon to assist with dispute resolution.
One of the EACC’s objectives is to support traditional dispute resolution methods. The population that lives in remote rural areas and other marginalized social groups are unlikely to have access to the courts because of the costs involved in both litigation and travel. The EACC hopes that encouraging and strengthening traditional dispute resolution mechanisms will help to increase access to justice for many Ethiopians.
To date, the EACC has organized three mediation training sessions for Ethiopian professionals. The first session took place in January 2005, the second in March 2005, and the third and most recent training session took place in December 2005.
This third session was delivered by Allan Stitt and Frank Handy of the Stitt Feld Handy Group, and a colleague, Rick Russell. This program provided general mediation training to 90 professionals from various organizations, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, the Civil Engineers’ Association, the Consulting Engineers’ Association, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association, and employees of other GOs and NGOs. Following the completion of this general skills course, the Stitt Feld Handy Group provided specialized training in family, labour, construction, and commercial dispute resolution skills. A total of 130 professionals who had received general mediation skills training participated in the specialized training. However, Mr. Ayele noted that in his opinion, there are still not enough trained mediators in Ethiopia. The Stitt Feld Handy Group will be returning to Ethiopia in March of 2007 to deliver a further “train-the-trainer” course so that other groups can be taught mediation.
Support for the EACC’s Initiatives
A number of different organizations have supported the EACC. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) gave a substantial amount of funding for the establishment of the Centre and two years of project support. The Centre has received funding from the French government for mediation training, to strengthen the EACC library and documentation centre, and for a pilot project that would require the High Court to refer a certain number of cases to the EACC for mediation. The EACC hopes that this program will raise awareness of ADR both within the judiciary and among members of the public. Initiative Africa is also one of the institutions that has supported the EACC’s projects. Mr. Mesfin Gebreyes Oda, an Ethiopian businessman, has also given financial support to EACC since the Center’s inception.
CIDA Canada, the French Embassy, the Netherlands Embassy, and SIDA Sweden, have signed a memorandum of understanding to form a consortium that will support the EACC’s ADR initiatives for 5 years, from 2007 to 2011.
Within Ethiopia the EACC has entered into Cooperation Agreements with the Bar Association, the Women Lawyers’ Association, the Employers’ Federation, the Civil Engineers’ Association, and the Consultants’ and Architects’ Association. The EACC has committed to provide ADR training to these groups and in return they have agreed to use ADR to resolve internal disputes.
Ethiopia’s Civil Code provides for arbitration and mediation; however, there is currently no umbrella law that institutionalizes ADR within Ethiopia. The EACC took the initiative, in collaboration with the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice, to draft a law on ADR which, if accepted in its proposed form, would institutionalize ADR within Ethiopia’s legal system.
Mr. Ayele spent two weeks in November, 2006 at the Stitt Feld Handy Group’s office in Toronto learning about the operation of an ADR organization. He was also able to observe several ADR Chambers mediations during his visit. In his opinion, the types of ADR processes used in Canada could be easily implemented in the Ethiopian context, with some modifications to ensure that a culturally sensitive approach is maintained. He expressed his gratitude toward the members of the firm and is looking forward to hosting them in Ethiopia for the upcoming train-the-trainer mediation workshop next March.
Nayla Mitha is a Toronto-based mediator, lawyer, negotiator, facilitator, and trainer with the Stitt Feld Handy Group. The Stitt Feld Handy Group has trained over 16,000 people in its workshops, currently conducted in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The Group conducts workshops for the public in joint venture with various universities including the University of Windsor, the University of Notre Dame, The College of Law (UK), and La Trobe University (Australia). The Group also designs and conducts customized workshops for both the private and public sector.