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    OHADA Four Years On: One Business Law for 16 African Countries


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2002

    by Jean-François Bourque

    The success of an organization that is harmonizing business laws in Africa is a model for the rest of the world.

    In 1998, Trade Forum announced what was then an adventure, and is now a ground-breaking 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 Until recently, most African states suffered from outdated legal systems, some dating from 1807, the time of Napoleon.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, Côte 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 Kéba 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.

    Recent achievements

    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. The following recent OHADA achievements show that faith to be justified.

    Uniform laws

    Seven texts are now directly applicable in all 16 OHADA countries, on:

    • general commercial law;
    • corporate law;
    • laws concerning guarantees and collaterals;
    • debt recovery and enforcement law;
    • bankruptcy law;
    • arbitration law; and
    • accounting law.

    Texts are in preparation for labour law, transport law, contracts law, competition law and law on cooperatives.

    Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire)

    Between November 2001, when the Court started its activities, and 15 October 2002, the Court received 87 cases from ten countries, of which 32 received judgement and 55 are pending.

    In the same period, the Court received five requests for arbitration, for which two awards have been granted and three are still pending.

    Regional Training Centre for Legal Officers (Porto Novo, Benin

    In 2002, the Centre organized some 40 regional and national seminars on OHADA law for judges, notaries, lawyers, court experts, registrars, bailiffs and magistrates. This, in itself, is a feat, considering the transport and communications difficulties in the region.

    For more information

    OHADA Permanent Secretariat
    BP 10071, Yaoundé, Cameroon
    Tel: +237 21 09 05
    Fax: +237 21 67 45

    UNIDA (Association for a Unified System of Business Laws)
    7 avenue de Ségur,
    75007 Paris, France
    Tel/Fax: +33 1 53 59 96 05

    Web sites on OHADA law: