Faculty Scholars: Won Kidane


When Won Kidane joined the Villanova Law faculty this fall, he came with over 20 years’ experience in international commercial law and arbitration—as a practicing attorney; an arbitrator of transnational commercial disputes; and a law professor and scholar who has taught not only in the U.S. but also in Africa (as a Fulbright Scholar) and China. His main interest is exploring the cultural aspects of commercial dispute resolution, given that tribunal proceedings involve people and organizations from different cultural backgrounds and legal traditions.

“If a Chinese company sues a U.S company, for example, the tribunal could include an arbitrator from France, another from Korea, and one from Nigeria—and they are asked to come together and resolve an extremely complex commercial dispute,” Kidane says. “When you gather people from different backgrounds, you can imagine what kinds of dynamics could happen in the courtroom. I study that cultural interaction and the communication aspects of how evidence is presented and how it is understood.”

His 2017 book, The Culture of International Arbitration (Oxford University Press), was the first of its kind to delve into these issues. His newest book, Africa’s International Investment Law Regimes (OUP), published in November 2023, offers an in-depth look at more than 30 African cases that have come before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes over the past 50 years. Kidane writes from experience: He has represented African states in investment and commercial arbitration matters and has visited more than 20 countries on the continent. He is particularly interested in commercial dispute resolutions between China and Africa. He published a book on this topic in 2011 as well as several articles, including one he is now preparing for the Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business.

Kidane is driven by his conviction that broader cultural representation on tribunals improves the quality of justice. He notes that, in the 30 African cases he recently studied, only a few arbitrators were African, and only four were women. “If you look at African nations going to London or Paris or The Hague to litigate a case, often against a European company, the arbitrators are usually European, and that’s because of the historical hierarchy,” he says. “My endeavor is to show that you need to have cultural representation, and not just for the sake of diversifying. It literally improves the quality of justice—and that could be helpful to developing countries.”

Kidane is active in global reform initiatives such as United Nations Commission on International Trade Law's working group to address diversity in international arbitration. He also helped draft the Investment Protocol of the  African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which would create a continent-wide market for goods and services, business, and investment. He plans to write about how this Protocol should be implemented.

Kidane’s focus on Africa makes him the ideal person to lead Villanova Law’s new International Entrepreneurship Program in Cape Town, South Africa, which launched this fall. Students are now taking courses in comparative law and will spend the spring semester in South Africa, gaining hands-on experience with practicing lawyers at South African law firms and businesses. They will study South African law at a local university and compare it with other legal systems. Kidane, who taught in a similar program in the past, says the experience of living abroad and working within another legal system is “extremely eye-opening.”

“My responsibility is to design it in such a way to give students the most exposure to international law and foreign law matters,” he says. “Our students are primarily exposed to U.S. federal and state jurisdictions. But in today’s world, where business is transnational, many students will end up doing work related to other countries’ laws. This experience will not only help them get a better sense for how things are done outside the U.S. but also give them a perspective to better understand the U.S. legal system.”

The opportunity to shape this program—the law school’s first in Africa—drew Kidane to Villanova Law, along with the chance to build its international law curriculum. The school’s research emphasis and location also factored into his decision. “This is a dynamic community of scholars, and geographically you cannot beat it—we’re right between New York and D.C., where international law is made,” he says. “It is the perfect combination of everything for me.”


Learn more about Professor Kidane and his recent publications.