A concise summary of Arbitration in Zambia with the aid of case law


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By Nosiku Nyambe

4th April 2024


Effective dispute resolution is an essential part of any society, this is because disputes must not be prolonged as they detrimentally impact business and social relationships (Tembo and others. Assessing the Effectiveness of Arbitration in the Zambian Construction industry, 2014)The Constitution of Zambia under Article 118(2)(d) encourages alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. This essay aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of one such alternative, namely Arbitration, delving into its critical aspects and its role in fostering effective dispute resolution. 

The predominant method of dispute resolution worldwide has traditionally been litigation, wherein parties seek resolution through the formal court system. However, the escalating global population has significantly burdened courts with an overwhelming caseload, leading to delays in resolving disputes. The drawbacks of litigation, such as its high cost, the intimidating courtroom environment, stringent procedural rules, and the strain on social and business relationships, have prompted a re-evaluation of its effectiveness. Consequently, various jurisdictions, including Zambia, advocate for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms as a more flexible and efficient means of resolving conflicts outside the courtroom. These mechanisms, such as arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and negotiation, are encouraged to promote social justice and address the limitations of traditional litigation.

Arbitration is defined as a form of alternative dispute resolution which is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, wherein the parties to the dispute refer it to one or more persons called arbitrators or arbitral tribunal, by whose decision called the award they agree to be bound.

In Zambia, the primary regulatory framework for arbitration is the Arbitration Act No. 19 of 2000, which incorporates and modifies the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law's Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (UNCITRAL Model Law). Section 8 of the Arbitration Act(no. 19 of 2001) expressly domesticates the UNCITRAL Model Law as the first schedule to the Act, aligning it with Zambian arbitration proceedings, regardless of whether they occur within or outside the country.

A notable legal precedent reinforcing the adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law is evident in the Supreme Court's ruling on China Henan International Cooperation Group Company v G and G Nation Wide (2017 ZMSC 18). The court clarified that Zambia, in repealing the old Arbitration Act (Chapter 40) and enacting the current Arbitration Act, chose to adopt the Model Law with specific modifications outlined in the Arbitration Act. A similar affirmation was made in the case of Zambia Revenue Authority v Tiger Limited and Zambia Development Agency (2016 ZMSC 11), where the court asserted that Zambia's Arbitration law essentially mirrors the UNCITRAL Model Law. This position extends beyond Zambia, as exemplified by the Zimbabwean Arbitration Act, which similarly includes the Model Law as Schedule 1 to the Act. In addition, Zambia has rectified the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration awards which were enacted in New York on June 10, 1958, by the United Nations Conference on International Commercial Arbitration, Zambia has domesticated the New York Convention with reservations in Zambia as Schedule 2 to the Arbitration Act.

Other pieces of legislation include the domestication of the Washington Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes Between States and Nationals of Other States through the Investment Dispute Convention. Additionally, Statutory Instrument No. 12 of 2007 introduces the Arbitration (Court Proceedings) Rules, and the Arbitration (Court Conduct and Standards) Regulations, collectively shaping the comprehensive legal framework governing arbitration in Zambia.

One of the essential elements of arbitration is that it is based on the wishes of the parties. Therefore, the disputants must agree prior to the dispute arising or during the ongoing dispute to subject it to arbitration. This agreement is referred to as an arbitration agreement. Section 2 of the Arbitration Act (no. 19 of 2001) defines an arbitration agreement as one, whether in writing or not, by parties to submit to Arbitration all or certain disputes that have arisen or which may arise between them in respect of a defined legal relationship, whether contractual or not. Arbitration can therefore arise as a contractual requirement or parties decide to arbitrate once a dispute occurs. This was illustrated in Savenda Management Services Limited v Stanbic Bank Zambia Limited (2018 ZMSC 413) where the respondent gave the appellant banking facilities which were secured by, among other things, legal mortgages. The parties agreed to refer to arbitration any dispute that may arise concerning the banking facilities, as was stipulated under Clause 14 of the Facility letters. 

Crucially, an arbitration agreement must align with the types of disputes amenable to arbitration. Section 6 of the Arbitration Act outlines disputes that cannot be determined through arbitration, encompassing those contrary to public policy, criminal matters, and issues related to paternity or parentage determination among others listed in the aforementioned section.

This agreement not only incorporates the nature of the dispute amenable to arbitration but also the names of the parties, the method of appointment of the members of the arbitral tribunal, and the number. Some of the qualifications that are considered when parties are considering who to appoint as their arbitrator are the person's impartiality and independence from the dispute and the parties, and other standards agreed upon by the parties. Failure to comply with these qualifications may be a valid ground to challenge an award or the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. In the case of Zambia Telecommunications Co. Limited v. Celtel (Z) Ltd (2008 ZMSC 23) the Supreme Court had the opportunity to consider whether the Chairman of the arbitral tribunal's failure to disclose his interest in another matter rendered the arbitral award issued by the arbitral tribunal in conflict with public policy therefore subject to being set aside.

Upon the emergence of a dispute, parties refer to their arbitration agreement to ascertain its compatibility with the agreed-upon terms. In Audrey Nyambe v Total Zambia Limited (Appeal No.29 of 2011), a Marketing License Agreement contained an arbitration clause specifying that disputes arising during the contract's continuance would be resolved through arbitration. The court, however, determined that a dispute arising post-termination fell outside the scope of the arbitration agreement, rendering it inoperative. In cases where the matter is deemed arbitrable, it is brought before the arbitral tribunal that was agreed upon by both parties in the arbitral agreement.

The arbitration process is a more formal dispute resolution process where parties are heard before a neutral decision-maker known as the arbitrator. This process closely mirrors court proceedings, encompassing opening statements, the presentation of evidence through documents, testimony, and exhibitions, along with the examination of witnesses under oath. While the arbitration procedure maintains certain similarities to court proceedings, it distinguishes itself by relaxed rules of evidence, often considering hearsay evidence (Helmut Rubmann, Remedies against Arbitral Awards: The Legal Consequences of Fraud in Arbitral


Following the thorough presentation of cases, the arbitral tribunal issues an award, and the prevailing party possesses the right to seek enforcement through a court order. Section 20(1) of the Arbitration Act establishes the general rule that arbitral awards, made following the arbitration agreement, are deemed final and binding on both parties, as well as any party claiming through or under them. Unlike judgments from first-instance courts, arbitral awards are not subject to appeal, rendering them more conclusively final.

Despite the idea that arbitration outcomes are final, parties can still contest an award based on specific grounds laid out in the Arbitration Act. The case of National Pension Scheme Authority v Sherwood Greene Limited (2018 ZMHC 283) confirmed that the only way to challenge an arbitral award is by applying to set it aside. In Zambia, dissatisfied parties may take it up with the High Court through an application to set aside the award. The process for this is detailed in Section 23 of the Arbitral (Court Proceedings) Rules (Statutory instrument 75 of 2001), which specifies that such applications are submitted using originating summons.

While challenging arbitral awards is a possibility, the permissible grounds for such challenges are notably restricted, as highlighted in the case of Zambia Revenue Authority v Tiger Limited and Zambia Development Agency (2016 ZMSC 11).  The Supreme Court clarified that there are two distinct sets of grounds, as outlined in Section 17 of the Arbitration Act. The first set, under Section 17(2)(a) from (i) to (v), includes factors such as the incapacity of a party to form a valid arbitral agreement. This ground, rooted in the consent-based nature of arbitration, allows for setting aside an award if a party is a minor or mentally incapable, lacking proper representation.

Other grounds in this set involve situations where a party was not adequately notified of arbitrator appointments or proceedings, or if a party couldn't present their case effectively. Since arbitration is party-driven, each party must have an equal role participating as to who will be in of the arbitral proceedings and render a final arbitral award. Additionally, an award may be set aside if an arbitrator exceeds the submission to arbitration, the composition or procedure deviates from the parties' agreement, or if the award is not yet binding, suspended, or set aside by a relevant court.

In the second set, covered by Section 17(2)(b) from (i) to (iii), the court may set aside an award if the subject matter is not arbitrable under Zambian laws, if the award conflicts with public policy, or if fraud, corruption, or misrepresentation influenced the award. To successfully challenge an award under Section 17(2)(a), a party must demonstrate that the circumstances in the specified grounds indeed exist. In contrast, under Section 17(2)(b), the court merely needs to find that the award falls under one of the three grounds outlined in (i) to (iii). However, the timeframe to make an application to set aside an award is limited. Section 17(3) of the Arbitration Act states that an application to set aside an award may not be made after 3 months have elapsed from the date on which the party making the application had received the award.

Similarly, under international law, an arbitral award according to Article 35(1) of the UNICITRAL Model Law is binding irrespective of the country it was made and upon application in writing to the competent court shall be enforceable. A party may not be happy with the arbitral tribunal's decision even if the award is binding on both parties. As a result, article 34 of the UNICITRAL Model law, which governs international arbitration, permits a party to apply that an award be set aside, which is similar to the grounds provided for in section 17 of the Arbitration Act.

The above discussion highlights the various advantages associated with arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Fundamentally, it operates as a party-driven process, wherein the disputing parties collaboratively decide whether to submit their matter to arbitration and select the arbitrator or arbitral tribunal, provided they demonstrate independence. This differs significantly from the judicial system, where parties lack the ability to choose their adjudicators.

Moreover, in arbitral proceedings, parties can establish fair conditions regarding the place of arbitration, the language used, procedural aspects, applicable rules of law, nationality considerations, and legal representation (Mwenda, Arbitration in Zambia: The East African Journal). Arbitration may take place in any country, in any language, and with arbitrators of any nationality. With this flexibility, it is generally possible to structure a neutral procedure offering no undue advantage to any party.

Furthermore, the prompt and cost-effective nature of arbitration sets it apart from litigation. The limited grounds for challenging arbitral awards, compared to court judgments, contribute to the quicker resolution of disputes and prevent prolonged and costly appeals. Also, the flexibility of arbitration allows parties to set up proceedings that can be conducted quickly and economically as the circumstance allows (Ibid).

Also, arbitration hearings are not public, and only the parties themselves receive copies of the awards. The confidentiality of arbitration is provided for in section 27 of the Arbitration Act

Despite the numerous advantages that are inherent in arbitration, it also has short-comings. For instance, there is no creation of precedence. Consequently, every dispute before an arbitral tribunal is heard on its individual merits. It therefore lacks consistency and predictability which are essential in the fostering of a good legal system.

Also, matters that are capable of being arbitrated are limited. Section 6 (2) of the Arbitration Act provides a list of matters that cannot be referred to arbitration. These are; criminal matters, matrimonial cause, paternity, maternity or parentage of a person, and matters affecting the interests of a minor or person under legal incapacity.


In summary, alternative dispute mechanisms such as arbitration have played a pivotal role in prompting social justice. Not only does it help in decongesting the court system that experiences a backload of cases but also helps in the quick dispensation of justice. Moreover, due to its effectiveness, arbitration is widely practiced on an international scale as well.






The Arbitration Act No.19 of 2000

The Constitution Act No.2 of 2016, chapter 1 of the laws of Zambia

The New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration awards (Done in New York on June 10, 1958)

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law's Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (UNCITRAL) Model Law (Adopted on 21st June 1985)


Audrey Nyambe v Total Zambia Limited Appeal No.29 of 2011

China Henan International Cooperation Group Company v G and G Nationalwide [2017] ZMSC 18

Savenda Management Services Limited v Stanbic bank Zambia Limited [2018] ZMSC 413

Zambia Revenue Authority v Tiger limited and Zambia Development Agency [2016] ZMSC 11

Zambia Telecommunications Co. Limited v. Celtel (Z) Ltd [2008] ZMSC 23


Kenneth. K. Mwenda, Arbitration in Zambia: ‘The Efficacy of the Legal Framework’ (n.d) The East African Law Journal http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/43029/browse?type=subject&value=Arbitration+law+in+Zambia+the+efficacy+of+the+legal+framework accessed on 22nd January, 2024


John Williams Rowley et al., The Guide to Challenging and Enforcing Arbitration Awards (London: Law Business Research Limited, 2021)


Chipozya Tembo, Dastan Chiponde, Lawrence Punda Mutale and PatienceMupeta ‘Assesing the Effectiveness of Arbitration in the Zambian Construction Industry’ (2014) Conference paper 2 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292074981 assessing the effectiveness of arbitration in the zambian Construction Industry

Helmut Rubmann, Remedies against Arbitral Awards: The Legal Consequences of Fraud in Arbitral Proceedings http://archiv.jura.uni-saarland.de/projekte/Bibliothesk/text.php?id=306


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About the Author:

Nosiku Nyambe is a third year student at the University of Zambia and serving as the Chief Legal Editor of Legal Aid Initiative.

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