During Cyberweek 2015, an annual conference on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), I attended a webinar titled "The African Union and Prospects of ODR in Africa". Ijeoma Ononogbu, Morenike Obi-Farinde and Ayo Kusamotu, three attorneys and ADR practitioners in Nigeria, presented the challenges and opportunities for ODR in their continent.
In short, the good news is that more and more people in Africa now use every day mobile devices (e.g. iPad, iPhone, Android tablet or smart phone) in their home or office. The bad news is that only few people know what ODR means, and how it can help them resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively.
During the webinar Q&A session, I made some comments related to online mediation - one form of ODR and a field that I have some experience in, having run hundreds of online mediation simulations in 9 languages with mediators from 30 countries. I pointed out to the webinar presenters that, in my view:
>>If the idiom "Seeing is Believing" applies to Africa as well, it is much better to show what online mediation means and how it works - rather than just talk about it.
>> Online mediation should be shown in as many languages (or dialects) as possible. In Nigeria, for example, in addition to English, their "official" language, there are three other major languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
A few days after Cyberweek, during a video conference with Morenike Obi-Farinde and three other Nigerian mediators interested in online mediation, we came up with a 2-step plan.
STEP 1 - I will set up, run and video record an online mediation simulation of a commercial case in English, with the participation of 3 mediators playing the mediator's and the parties' roles.
The purpose of that simulation is dual. First, letting those mediators see for themselves what online mediation means, how it works, and how they can do online what they are used to do face-to-face. Second, asking the mediators who participated in our simulation: how did you like what you just did? The reason why their answer is so important is simple - how can mediators possibly convince other people that online mediation works and makes sense, if they are not fully convinced themselves?
After our simulation, I will also produce a short video, which can be used to promote online mediation in Nigeria. For example, it can be posted on the "ODR Africa Network" and Virtual Mediation Lab websites, shared through the social media (Twitter, Facebook), or shown during their presentations to community, professional and business organizations.
STEP 2 - I will then teach Morenike Obi-Farinde and a group of other ODR Africa Network mediators how to do by themselves what we did for our simulation in English. From that point on, they will be able to set up, run and video record online mediations simulations in different languages - Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba - and for different kind of cases: for example, for commercial, family, workplace, International, bi-lingual disputes.
On December 3, 2015 we carried out Step 1 of our 2-step plan, and it worked great. As you can see in this 2-min video - http://goo.gl/EtGj2e - our online mediation simulation of a commercial case went well, proving that today's technology in Nigeria is sufficient for offering online mediation services.
More importantly, all mediators who participated in our simulation loved it, and can't wait to participate in Step 2 of our plan - a 2-hour Training in Online Mediation.
Granted, before online mediation becomes a reality in Nigeria and other African countries it will take a while and a lot of effort. Our 1-hour simulation, however, has already accomplished two important goals. First, the Nigerian mediators who participated in it now truly believe in online mediation. Second, they can now show other people - in just 2 minutes - what online mediation means and how it works.