World Bank Cites Strong Judiciary as Key to Economic Development in Africa

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The World Bank recently noted its opinion that growth in Africa hinges largely on a strong and virile judicial system. The World Bank made its comments in conjunction with the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), and it targeted toward member nations of the African Union (AU).

The World Bank urged governments within the African Union to strengthen their respective justice systems, and to seek to make them truly efficient and effective. In delivering its opinions, the World Bank's Director of Governance Global Practice, Hassane Cisse, noted that, at present, many legal disputes in AU nations remained far lengthier than similar proceedings in more industrialized nations (particularly those disputes arising out of business transactions).

According to Cisse, such protracted legal disputes can discourage foreign investments, suppressing economic growth. Thus, he called for the development of a quicker justice system in AU nations that could resolve disputes more expeditiously than at present.

Per Cisse, "timely functioning of an effective judiciary also boosts the private sector by upholding property rights and enforcement of contracts. It helps entrepreneurs and businesses lower their transaction costs and manage their operating risks … Thus, strengthening African justice systems are a key priority for building investor confidence, promoting businesses that can create much needed jobs, and boosting the continent's economies."

The World Bank's "Doing Business Report for 2015" echoed Cisse’s comments.  It showed that the average time to enforce a commercial contract in Sub-Sahara Africa was 653 days (by comparison, the same type of case takes a mere 150 days in Singapore). Moreover, African Union courts suffer from high costs for enforcement, where about 45 percent of the value of the claim is lost to the legal enforcement efforts. This compares to a loss of 30 percent in Latin America and South Asia.

While Cisse and the World Bank called for these changes, they noted with some trepidation that the African judicial systems had not improved over recent years despite warnings. As a result, they blame much of the stagnant growth in AU nations on the lack of importance placed on improving the judiciary.

Nevertheless, according to the Guardian, Cisse still praised the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights for organizing the African Judicial Dialogue. This group will also provide a knowledge and experience-sharing network to provide a supportive structure. Cisse and the World Bank remain optimistic that these programs will help the AU to effect institutional level changes that can lead to more abundant and rapid economic development.