Globalisation of commercial activity extends into international investments, evidenced by over 2,500 bilateral investment treaties (BIT) or International Investment Agreements (IIA) in the international investment regime. Within these BITs is an embedded Investment State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system executed through an Arbitration Mechanism. The ISDS system serves as a dispute resolution tool for achieving the purpose of the IIA. The purpose of the IIA is for the protection of foreign investment from the harmful policies and governance of host states. In addition, many IIAs contain certain common standards and principles that regulate the investment relationship, such as the notorious fair and equitable treatment (FET), stabilization clauses, and so on. Thus, the overarching aim behind the norms and principles of international investment management is the creation of a system of legal safeguards against the actions of the host states. This simplistic paradigm of international investment law regime has become increasingly problematic due to the expansion and inclusion of various indirect stakeholders in the investment agreements, the growing recognition of public socio-economic realities like regulatory rights, and development rights, that are being pushed for larger consideration from ignored stakeholders mostly like the public.
In March 2018, African nations embarked on a historic journey to reshape their trade landscape through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Originally scheduled for implementation in mid-2020, a pandemic-induced delay pushed the launch to January 2021. Aggregating over 1.2 billion people, the AfCFTA promises to create a massive market with a combined GDP of over $3 trillion. With 54 signatories and 47 countries ratifying the agreement, the AfCFTA aims to foster a pan-African free trade zone, enhance regional development prospects, and promote intra-African trade. Key mechanisms are progressively dismantling trade barriers and promoting investment. This blog post delves into the current state of investment dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms across Africa, the potential of the AfCFTA and its investment protocol to catalyse change, and the need for a balanced multilateral approach. Through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to equity, Africa can create a new paradigm for investment dispute resolution that truly reflects the continent's values and aspirations.