The Côte d’Ivoire arbitration regime is similar to many regimes in French-speaking West Africa. Côte d’Ivoire’s specific domestic law on arbitration (Law n° 93-671 of 9 August 1993 on Arbitration) was replaced by the OHADA provisions of 1999. The unified legislation supersedes the previous national legislation in each member state but does not prevent them from enacting specific legislation that does not conflict with the Uniform Acts (CCJA decision 001/2001/EP, 30 April 2001). However, there is currently no arbitration law in Côte d’Ivoire to complement the OHADA provisions. Côte d’Ivoire is a member of OHADA and a contracting party to the NY Convention (1958).
The Ivorian law of 1993 restricted arbitration to domestic disputes between merchants. The Uniform Act does not contain such restrictions and the same law applies to national and international arbitration in Côte d’Ivoire.
Under OHADA, arbitrations can be administered under the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (the CCJA is both a center of arbitration with its own set of rules that administers arbitration proceedings and a judicial court with jurisdiction for the challenge of final decisions of the “competent judge of the member state” on every matter covered by the Uniform Act on Arbitration – that is to say, at the Supreme Court level).
When arbitrations are not administered by the CCJA but by another institution, or ad hoc, and the seat of arbitration is in a member state of the OHADA (e.g., Abidjan), the basic rules of the Uniform Act on Arbitration of 11 March 1999, Ouagadougou, will apply. The Uniform Act is based on the UNCITRAL model law and, as mentioned above, supersedes the national laws on arbitration of the OHADA States.
As the two systems are based on different sources of law, there can be no joint application of the CCJA and Uniform Act on Arbitration Rules.
Specificities of the Uniform Act on Arbitration
The Uniform Act does not define “arbitration” or “arbitration agreement.” The OHADA Treaty and the New York Convention of 1958 will, however, complete this omission.
The rules of the Uniform Act on Arbitration apply to arbitrations where the seat is located in one of OHADA contracting states (Art. 1), whether ad hoc or under an arbitral institution other than the CCJA.
The parties can be private or public persons (States, territorial public entities, public institutions) (Art. 2). The statute does not, however, include provisions on immunities of execution and the issue will be governed by the law of the State where enforcement is sought.
The arbitration agreement must be made in writing or made by reference (Art. 3).
The arbitration agreement signed by the parties is the sole authority for the appointment, dismissal and replacement of arbitrators (Art. 5). Nevertheless, we can infer from Art. 14 that a party that fails to timely challenge the appointment of an arbitrator will be deemed to have waived her right.
The parties are free to submit to an arbitration institution (and apply its rules) and determine the procedure and organize the proceedings as they wish and may subject the arbitration procedure to a procedural law of their choice. When no such agreement is made, the arbitral tribunal determines the procedure (Art. 10 and 14). Of course, these provisions can prove hard to apply where it is not possible to derogate to some rules of some arbitration centers (e.g., Parties cannot derogate from the ICC Rules when they have decided to use them).
A State court seized with the dispute must declare itself incompetent and refer the parties to arbitration if (1) one party makes such request and (2) the arbitration agreement is not manifestly invalid (Art. 13).
The parties can contractually agree to be governed by a procedural law other than the Uniform Act (Art. 14) and can waive some of the provisions of the Uniform Act (Art. 10). Some provisions will, of course, be mandatory (Art. 9, for instance, provides that parties must be treated with equality and be given a full opportunity to present their case).
Arbitrations under the rules of the Uniform Act on Arbitration are dependent on State courts which will appoint an arbitrator when the parties cannot agree (Art. 5 and 8), hear challenges against arbitrators (Art. 7), order interim measures (Art. 13(4)) (see for example Cour Suprême, Toyota Services Afrique (TSA) v Société Promotion de Représentation Automobiles (PREMOTO), Arrêt n°317/97 of 04 December 1997), and provide assistance in the taking of evidence (Art. 14(7)).
Interim measures ordered by the domestic court must not involve a review of the merits of the case (Art. 13(4) and Société Toutelec Niger c/ Charles Hountondji, Cour d’appel de Niamey – Arrêt N° 142 du 24 décembre 2003). Although the Uniform Act does not expressly states it, the jurisdiction of the competent court is not exclusive and the arbitral tribunal, if it is constituted, can order interim measures, by virtue of the binding effect of the arbitration agreement. An award ordering interim measures, however, must be granted exequatur before becoming enforceable. Because interim measures are often urgently needed, it is more effective to obtain a court decision which will be immediately enforceable.
State courts are competent to hear requests for setting aside the award (Art. 25) (appeal to the court’s ruling will be lodged with the CCJA). The grounds for nullity are: (1) the absence of arbitration agreement, the arbitration agreement was void, null or had lapsed by the time the tribunal rendered the award, (2) the arbitral tribunal is improperly constituted, (3) the tribunal failed to comply with its terms of reference, (4) lack of due process in the proceedings, (5) the tribunal violated an international public policy rule of the member states (ordre pubic international) or (6) the tribunal failed to give reasons for the award.
A party may file a request for correction (clerical mistakes and omissions), interpretation of the award and, if the tribunal cannot be reconstituted, the State courts become competent (Art. 22). Also, a party may also apply for an award to be revised where there has been a discovery of a fact which could have had a significant influence on the decision being challenged and which was unknown at the time the decision was given (Art. 25). Moreover, a third party which has not been joined to the arbitration proceedings can file a motion to contest an award which damages his rights (Art. 25).
Unlike the Model Law, the Uniform Act allows the arbitral tribunal to order the provisional enforcement of the award (Art. 28).
State courts are competent for the enforcement of the award (Art. 30). A court’s ruling refusing the enforcement of an arbitral award can be challenged before the CCJA whereas a ruling granting enforcement is final and not subject to any recourse (Art. 32).
When an award is rendered in an OHADA member state, its exequatur can only be granted upon the production of the award and the arbitration agreement (original or certified copies) in French (the documents may also be translated into French by an officially registered translator) (Art. 31). If enforcement is sought in an OHADA country which is not French-speaking, the documents should be translated in the language of this country.
Foreign awards rendered outside OHADA member states will be binding and enforceable in Côte d’Ivoire under the provisions of the New York Convention of 1958 (Art. 34).
Analysis of the Specificities of the Uniform Act on Arbitration
The Uniform Act on Arbitration lacks precision in many regards. For example, it provides no guidance on the timeframe within which a third party may contest an award which damages its rights, nor does it indicate the procedure to follow if the tribunal is unable to reconvene. It might also prove difficult to reconcile in practice the Article 23 of the Uniform Act (res judicata) and the necessity to bring before the arbitral tribunal a third-party not privy to the arbitration agreement.
Also, The Uniform Act does not specify a time limit or how the court should assist when the tribunal is discharged in circumstances where a significant fact is discovered after the time the award was rendered.
Moreover, as mentioned, violation of the international public policy rule of the member states (ordre pubic international) is a ground for nullity of the award and for rejecting the exequatur of the award. However, the Uniform Act on Arbitration does not define it. Does it refer to mandatory provisions within each member state or within all member states?
Furthermore, unlike arbitrations administered under the CCJA, ad hoc arbitrations with an Ivorian seat need the constant support of domestic courts. In practice, such State court intervention can undoubtedly prove problematic and dissuade parties from choosing an ad hoc arbitration with a seat in Côte d’Ivoire.
A difficulty stems from the fact that the Uniform Act on Arbitration mentions the “competent judge of the member state” on several occasions but does not specify which court is competent; domestic law would normally provide for this. However, according to Art. 35, the Uniform Act on Arbitration is the law governing any arbitration in member States and replaces the law of 1993, which is no longer applicable after the Act’s entry into force. The issue is that Côte d’Ivoire has not adopted any other pertinent laws.
However, on Côte d’Ivoire’s request, the CCJA, rendered the decision 001/2001/EP, 30 April 2001 stating that the Uniform Act “doit être interprété comme se substituant aux lois nationales existantes en la matière sous réserve des dispositions non contraires susceptibles d’exister en droit interne,” thus allowing the completion of the Uniform Act with provisions of the Law n° 93-671 of 9 August 1993 on Arbitration to the extent that they do not contradict each other.
Therefore, according to the law of 1993, the competent court at the stage of the constitution of the arbitral tribunal (and for the recusation) is “le Président du Tribunal de Première Instance ou le juge de la section de tribunal désigné par les parties ou celui du lieu de l’arbitrage” (See Arts. 3, 13, 21 of the 1993 Law). The competent court to grant exequatur according to the law of 1993 is the “President du Tribunal de Premiere Instance ou le juge de la section de Tribunal dans le ressort duquel l’execution doit etre poursuivie” (Art. 35 of the 1993 Law).
Finally, some authors have expressed the view that state courts in Côte d’Ivoire have sometimes attempted to control the merits of the award, in particular when seized with setting aside proceedings. However, the decision to set aside an award may be quashed by the CCJA, which is evidently very favorable to arbitration.
Uniform Act on Arbitration of 11 August 1999, Ouagadougou
Law n° 93-671 of 9 August 1993 on Arbitration
Commentaries and Doctrine
Werner Jahnel, Assessment Report of arbitration centers in Côte d’Hivoire, Egypt and Mauritius, African Development Bank, 10 April 2014
Narcisse Aka, La pratique Arbitrale en Côte d’Ivoire, www.ohada.com
Narcisse Aka, Les mesures provisoires et conservatoires en matiere d’arbitrage, www.ohada.com
Kenfack Douajni, La portée abrogatoire de l’Acte Uniforme relatif au droit de l’arbitrage, Revue Camerounaise de l’Arbitrage, n° 14 – Juillet – Août – Septembre 2001
Dal, Tchekemian, L’Acte uniforme relatif au droit de l’arbitrage, Journée d’étude sur l’Organisation pour l’Harmonisation en Afrique du Droit des Affaires (OHADA), 11 mars 2010
Kenfack Douajni, Imhoos, L’Acte uniforme relatif au droit de l’arbitrage dans le cadre du Traité OHADA, Revue Camerounaise de l’Arbitrage, n° 5 – Avril – Mai – Juin 1999.
Société Toutelec Niger c/ Charles Hountondji, Cour d’appel de Niamey – Arrêt N° 142 du 24 décembre 2003
CCJA decision 001/2001/EP, 30 April 2001
Cour d’appel d’Abidjan, Société PRODEXCI v Société RAIMUND COMMODITIES INC. / Arrêt n° 486 of 20 April 2004, available at http://www.newyorkconvention1958.org/index.php?lvl=more_results&look_ALL=1&user_query=*&autolevel1=1&jurisdiction=19
Cour Suprême, Société SICAFA S.A. v Société J. ARON and Company (U.K.), Arrêt n° 501 of 13 June 2002, available at http://www.newyorkconvention1958.org/index.php?lvl=more_results&look_ALL=1&user_query=*&autolevel1=1&jurisdiction=19
High Court of Fako Division, African Petroleum Consultants (APC) v Société Nationale de Raffinage, Suit No. HCF/91/M/2001-2002 of 15 May 2002, available at http://www.newyorkconvention1958.org/index.php?lvl=more_results&look_ALL=1&user_query=*&autolevel1=1&jurisdiction=19
Tribunal de Grande Instance de Ouagadougou, Société des Ciments d’Abidjan (SCA) v Société Burkinabè des Ciments et Matériaux (CIMAT) of 13 June 2001, available at http://www.newyorkconvention1958.org/index.php?lvl=more_results&look_ALL=1&user_query=*&autolevel1=1&jurisdiction=19
Cour Suprême / Toyota Services Afrique (TSA) v Société Promotion de Représentation Automobiles (PREMOTO) / Arrêt n°317/97 of 04 December 1997, available at http://www.newyorkconvention1958.org/index.php?lvl=more_results&look_ALL=1&user_query=*&autolevel1=1&jurisdiction=19
Tribunal de Première Instance de Cotonou, M. Adeossi v Sonapra, Ordonnance n°19/94 of 25 January 1994, available at http://www.newyorkconvention1958.org/index.php?lvl=more_results&look_ALL=1&user_query=*&autolevel1=1&jurisdiction=19
 For the courts competent to grant exequatur, see also Cour d’appel d’Abidjan, Société PRODEXCI v Société RAIMUND COMMODITIES INC. / Arrêt n° 486 of 20 April 2004, Cour Suprême, Société SICAFA S.A. v Société J. ARON and Company (U.K.) / Arrêt n° 501 of 13 June 2002, High Court of Fako Division, African Petroleum Consultants (APC) v Société Nationale de Raffinage, Suit No. HCF/91/M/2001-2002 of 15 May 2002, Tribunal de Grande Instance de Ouagadougou, Société des Ciments d’Abidjan (SCA) v Société Burkinabè des Ciments et Matériaux (CIMAT) of 13 June 2001, and Tribunal de Première Instance de Cotonou, M. Adeossi v Sonapra, Ordonnance n°19/94 of 25 January 1994.