By Bourque, Jean-Francois
International Trade Forum
In 1998, Forum announced what was then an adventure, and is now a groundbreaking success. The Organization for Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) has unified regional business laws to an extent unheard-of anywhere else. Until recently, most African states suffered from outdated legal systems, some dating from 1807, the time of Napoleon. Since its creation in 1993, OHADA has designed, enforced and applied through the courts a substantial body of uniform commercial laws.
The main goals of OHADA are to:
* unify business laws for OHADA countries;
* create one Supreme Court for all OHADA countries;
* develop a regional training centre for judges and court officers; and
* set up a regional arbitration system.
OHADA member countries
At present OHADA has 16 members: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
The present dominance of the French language and of civil law within OHADA is expected to change over time as OHADA embraces other African countries. "Although OHADA was conceived in a French-speaking area, African leaders have quickly come to understand that this priceless tool of economic integration should be extended to other countries," says Judge Keba Mbaye, the former president of the International Court of Justice. "Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea soon became members, and now, with the advent of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, OHADA's extension to English-speaking African countries is inevitable."
Besides OHADA's geographic expansion, there are still important challenges ahead, including the financing of OHADA institutions after 2004. However, a great deal has already been accomplished in a relatively short time.
ITC has always viewed OHADA as an important opportunity for integrating African economies into the global economy, enabling regional member countries to increase intra-African trade, and as an example of economies of scale in making law reforms. …