Alternative Dispute Resolution methods such as mediation and arbitration are increasingly being accepted as alternatives to litigation and court processes in resolving disputes in Kenya.
However, Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is yet to be acknowledged in Kenya by both the law and businesses.
ODR is the product of the information age and ADR.
It involves leveraging the internet to connect people as a means of resolving disputes, particularly the disputes that arise between people and businesses operating in the online sphere.
Over the last decade, Kenya has experienced significant growth of businesses online.
It is inevitable that various disputes often arise from these businesses and their transactions and this often leaves both the businesses and their customers without recourse for settling the conflicts since the transactions are often too small to be worth litigating or even relying on other ADR mechanisms such as arbitration and mediation for resolution.
This leaves both parties at a loss with customers feeling resentful and the business losing customers over conflicts that can be easily resolved.
Kenya has been a global leader in adoption of groundbreaking innovations and disruptions to traditional industries as evidenced by M-Pesa.
Therefore, it is high time that the growing online businesses adopted an easy and convenient method of resolving their disputes.
Being part of Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms, ODR has several advantages over court litigation, including a much faster resolution timeline, significantly lesser costs, and it is also aimed at maintaining the relationship between the two parties instead of escalating their issues.
Additionally, ODR has the advantage of being more convenient and easier to access and use than other forms of ADR such as arbitration and mediation.
As with any other online-based platforms, an ODR platform would change the dispute resolution process into a few clicks made from any device that can access the internet.
ODR also offers a viable means of resolving disputes over low-priced goods and services that are typical of e-commerce transactions.
According to UNCTAD, e-commerce accounts for an estimated six percent of all purchases in Kenya and this number is expected to rise making it apparent that there is an urgent need to provide a viable means of resolving the disputes arising from such transactions.
To ensure that ODR is encouraged and nurtured in Kenya, it is crucial that a legal framework and legal standards are developed to guide the eventual development of such platforms.
Notably, this problem is not isolated to Kenya considering that other African States have also failed to encourage ODR through legal frameworks and standards.
However, not all hope is lost since we still have several pioneering platforms seeking to offer such ODR services such as iResolve in Tanzania, and UlizaWakili in Kenya.
With usual trend of technology leading and law following closely after, it is to be expected that the law to regulate the ODR will be legislated soon.
Considering the Kenyan penchant for adopting innovative and disruptive technology, ODR might just be the next frontier in dispute resolution in Kenya.
Muiruri Wanyoike,founding team member and CIO at UlizaWakili.