Harmonizing Business Law in Africa

International Trade Forum, July-September 1998 | Go to article overview
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Harmonizing Business Law in Africa

ITC interviewed Dr Roland Amoussou-Guenou, a French-Beninese lawyer practising in Paris. He is a legal consultant for the Association for the Unification of Law in Africa (UNIDA), created by a group of lawyers residing in Africa and in Europe in order to support the OHADA process.

What does OHADA mean for business people and lawyers in Africa?

OHADA is seen by most African lawyers and business people as an ambitious project which will reassure investors about the legal security of commercial transactions. The implementation of this project has become one of the main points of interest in the news in Africa since the OHADA institutions were established and the uniform laws were enacted. Until now, the countries in the area suffered from incoherent, contradictory and divergent national laws. OHADA is changing the picture with its transparent and comprehensive business laws. At the turn of the 21st century, OHADA is creating a new regional legal area for business law. Frankly speaking, this can be viewed as a legal revolution.

Practically speaking, how will it affect the day-to-day life of business people and company lawyers?

The OHADA region will become not only a more attractive area for business ventures, but also a new area of expertise. Lawyers and other legal services will compete to offer their services concerning the OHADA "legal market", which represents an economic interest that is far from negligible. Most foreign law firms practising in Africa recognize this. It is up to African lawyers not to let themselves be outdistanced on their own stomping grounds.

How do you explain that few are still aware of the OHADA revolution?

It is understandable that some time must elapse before business people become aware of the OHADA process and how it affects their business. There are two reasons for this: one is the speed at which legal integration has taken place. In effect, the OHADA was created only five years ago, in 1993. Since then several uniform laws have already been enacted, and the process is far from being finished. As a basis for comparison, the construction of the European Union (which, I recognize, covers more than simply legal aspects) has taken 40 years from the Treaty of Rome in 1957 to the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. Even today, apart from a few specialists, it is doubtful that many business people and lawyers in Europe know much about the 20,000 rules and regulations governing European law.

Therefore, it is quite understandable that in spite of the efforts made by the OHADA Secretariat to make the business community aware of OHADA, a considerable period of time will be necessary to "digest" this legal reform. By the way, OHADA texts can be found on the Internet: http://www.refer.org/camer_ct/eco/ecohada

How is OHADA coping with the multicultural aspects of legal integration?

OHADA law is mainly based on French continental law. The OHADA area comprises several French-speaking countries, but also Portuguese-speaking, Spanish-speaking and English-speaking countries.

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