By Helen Burnett
Law Times, April 21, 2008

Alternative dispute resolution is reportedly catching on in Ethiopia-and it has a Canadian connection. Toronto’s Stitt Feld Handy Group and the Ethiopian Arbitration and Conciliation Centre have recently become partners to run training sessions in the East African country. So far in 2008, two have already been complete.

In February, the Canadian group traveled to Ethiopia to run a course to train members of the ombudsman’s office there, followed in March by a session for a human rights group. In July, the group is returning to teach people how to be arbitrators.

The partnership between the EACC, an independent body established by a group of Ethiopian lawyers, and the Stitt Feld Handy Group began with the EACC wanting to do a course in ADR, says Allan Stitt, president of the Stitt Feld Handy Group and ADR Chambers. The EACC visited the Canadian embassy in Ethiopia, who had heard of the Stitt Feld Handy training, and contacted the group, who then went there to do a few courses for them.

Following these first few training sessions, the group brought the EACC’s executive director, Woubshet Ayele, to Toronto a year and a half ago to show him how they run things at ADR Chambers and to help him with the administration of the centre. A document was then drawn up; with the two groups agreeing that they would work together as joint-venture partners to try to bring ADR to Ethiopia.

The group has also run courses in Trinidad, Barbados, the Bahamas, the U.K., Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and around North America.

People from diverse occupations attend the courses, says Stitt, including lawyers, engineers, architects, construction people, women’s-rights advocates, social workers, family dispute resolution people, and union representatives. “A very wide-ranging people who are extremely keen and know that in other parts of the world there are new and different ways that people are finding dispute resolution processes that work, and they are extremely keen to become leading-edge and to lean what’s going on elsewhere,” he says.

“The groups that I’ve been involved in teaching there are the most respectful, most interesting, fun to be with, keen in the sense of wanting to learn, and enjoyable groups that I teach anywhere in the world,” he says.

While each course is different, says Stitt, the standard EACC course covers how to resolve conflict in an interest-based way, such as how to work with people, how to understand what they’re saying, and how to listen effectively. The general courses that Stitt Feld Handy Group runs for the EACC in negotiation and conflict resolution are usually two one-week sessions with two members of the Canadian group going over to lead the program. People who take the course want the skills for different reasons, says Stitt. “There are some people who are going into the smaller towns to help resolve disputes there and some people who are working in the construction industry right in Addis Ababa,” he says.

The courses are similar to those the group teaches in other countries as well, but Stitt notes that every country has cultural differences. For example, he notes that the challenges around domestic violence issues are “immense” in Ethiopia, and figuring out how to do family law ADR is quite different.

“You adapt what you’re doing to the situation, but the theories are basically the same,” he says. The group hears through the EACC that people are really taking the skills learned through the courses to heart and using them, and they are making a difference. “It’s starting to infiltrate the courts system, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean that in a positive way,” he says. At the last course he attended, the country’s associate chief justice was there and spoke about how people are starting to use ADR skills to resolve disputes, and he certainly sees it as a “wave of the future” in Ethiopia. “It’s being used, I think, both in everyday life and as part of the formal litigation system. It’s really starting to take hold, starting to catch on,” he says.

“The good thing about being able to do the courses is that we get some advocates for the process who are starting to spread the word among people in Ethiopia.” The issue isn’t demand, in terms of people who want the skills, says Stitt, but an enormous challenge is that Ethiopia is the fourth poorest country in the world and many can’t afford to get training. “The only way that the training can happen is if we can get someone to basically, by and large, fund our experts to get there and stay there,” he says.

There is a local businessman in Ethiopia who is involved with the EACC and who funds the group’s accommodation when they are there, says Stitt, and there are various government programs that the centre is able to access to get funding for airfare. The Stitt Feld Handy Group donates its time. The EACC receives funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, as well as the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, as well as from Initiative Africa, the French Embassy (on a project basis), and recently from Japan’s embassy.

While the training continues, there may one day be other projects on the horizon for this partnership. Stitt says that his dream and the dream of the executive director of the EACC, a former lawyer, is to somehow figure out how to get the funding to establish a new law school in Ethiopia that teaches the rule of the law.