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In Africa, Knowledge is power

1 September 2016
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Bowman Gilfillan Africa Group today announced that from 1 September it will operate across Africa under one brand:  Bowmans.

This was a natural step forward for us. The model we chose to provide legal services to our clients across Africa has been to establish offices in key jurisdictions and work in a fully integrated way to deliver a one-stop service. However, while our offices are integrated, our brand has not reflected this up until now.

The firm’s vision is to be pre-eminent law firm in Africa for corporate, institutional and public sector clients’ most complex legal matters  We believe this ‘one firm’ approach is superior to networks and alliances because it fosters exceptionally close working relationships among our lawyers and business service departments to provide our clients with service of a consistently high quality.

Along with the new name and logo, we are highlighting what we believe to be our differentiator: legal knowledge plus real experience of local complexities, on the ground. This is encapsulated in the phrase ‘The value of knowing’.

As, John Ffooks, the managing partner of our francophone Africa team says – we are the only legal practice in francophone Africa with a combination of Napoleonic and English law expertise – making us the obvious choice when it comes to international transactions. As Bowmans, this cross-border ability is supported by access to invaluable knowledge and legal resources.

In Kenya, Richard Harney, our local managing partner, notes that, as Bowmans, we are able to expand our ambitions beyond Kenya’s borders – to the East African region and the continent beyond.  The team in Kenya have worked on projects in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

William Kasozi, our managing partner in Uganda, strongly believes that we are known for delivering specialist legal services in Uganda and, as Bowmans, we have had extensive experience advising and acting for clients on complex and large-scale transactions.

Private Equity:
The private equity sector can be attributed to declining commodity prices and currencies. As a result, capital allocated to emerging markets is likely to decrease and both acquisitions and disposals are likely to decline in the short-term. On the buy side, sellers’ price expectations have not yet adjusted, although there is some evidence of change. On the exit side, a sale now would lock in currency losses, so exits are likely to be delayed. The shortage of hard currency will also render certain jurisdictions unattractive.

On the other hand, deal opportunities may present themselves in the medium- to long-term out of secondary transactions, ongoing disposals of non-core assets and family businesses looking to free up and externalise capital. Acquisition opportunities could also arise as competitors become distressed.

Infrastructure:
The infrastructure “gap” in Africa is a challenge presenting multiple investment opportunities.

Successful private sector investments in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the areas of power, transportation and mid-stream oil and gas, tend to be under ‘concession’ type arrangements with procuring government institutions, on a by-invitation only basis and under competitive bid arrangements.

The success stories are the independent power producer (IPP) programmes in Kenya in the early 2000s, the renewable energy IPP programme in South Africa and Getfit in Uganda. However, these are exceptions rather than the rule and, in general, procurements – even when open to competition – have not been particularly successful.

Government policy and action are key in creating an environment conducive to long-term investment in infrastructure and in which partnerships between public and private sectors are encouraged. As such, proper planning is more likely to result in procurement systems that articulate policy goals. This includes ongoing processes for market sounding and consultation so that what is asked for is commercially available from the market and the market can be responsive to the minimum requirements.

A lack of policy commitments on and regulatory implementation of ‘cost reflectivity’ in tariffs is a challenge that needs to be addressed in relation to pricing.

In addition, government execution capacity is a key success factor in successful infrastructure projects.

Oil and Gas:
Oil and gas rich countries need to monetise their natural resources to drive growth and development. Their governments have introduced a variety of regulatory and fiscal regimes to achieve this. However, many of these were conceived in a much higher dollar oil environment. The trend has been broadly to increase the state’s share of oil and gas resources thus impacting final investment decisions (FID).

There are two noticeable oil and gas environments that African legal systems are grappling to regulate. The first is the mature sector, mostly in the west where the bulk of government revenue is derived from oil and gas. These governments are struggling because their incomes have decreased with the falling oil price. The second is the nascent sector, situated mostly in the east, where investors are holding back pending a sustained improvement in the oil price and regulatory certainty.

This is becoming more and more of a challenge particularly as governments are recognising the problem but remain undecided as to what regulatory changes to introduce. The resulting uncertainty is negatively impacting investments.

In addition, indigenisation or the requirement for local content is part of all regulatory regimes. In the more mature hydrocarbon markets of West Africa, there is a reasonable supply of skilled labour and immigration laws are more understanding. In the east, where there are significant hydrocarbon assets, the skills to exploit them are limited and the immigration laws are not yet flexible enough.

On the plus side, the operational and fiscal costs of oil and gas projects in Africa can be lower than elsewhere in the world as a result of the low cost of labour and the impact of exchange rates. There is significant potential in the African oil and gas sector over the long-term.

Progress in the legal and regulatory space tends to be a drawn out process, heavily influenced by the political and economic environment.  That said, the progress which has been made over the last ten years in Africa demonstrates that it is possible. Investors should be cautiously optimistic about their ability to mitigate the challenges of investing in Africa.

We have outstanding people with the knowledge to aid clients looking to invest in developing markets in Africa. We believe that our new brand reflects our unique ability to help clients navigate the African landscape.

Our Firm

Bowmans is a leading Pan-African law firm. Our track record of providing specialist legal services, both domestic and cross-border, in the fields of corporate law, banking and finance law and dispute resolution, spans over a century.

With six offices in four African countries and over 400 specialised lawyers, we are differentiated by our geographical reach, independence and the quality of legal services we provide.

We draw on our unique knowledge of the African business environment and in-depth understanding of the socio-political climate to advise clients on a wide range of legal issues. Our aim is to assist our clients in achieving their objectives as smoothly and efficiently as possible while minimising the legal and regulatory risks.

Our clients include corporates, multinationals and state-owned enterprises across a range of industry sectors as well as financial institutions and governments.

Our expertise is frequently recognised by independent research organisations. We have been named Africa Legal Adviser by DealMakers for the last two consecutive years (2014 and 2015). Most recently our South African office was named South African Law Firm of the Year for 2016 by the Who’s Who Legal. We also won the Competition and Regulatory Team of the Year and the IP Team of the Year Awards at the prestigious African Legal Awards hosted by Legal Week and the Corporate Lawyers Association in 2015.

Our Footprint in Africa

We provide integrated legal services throughout Africa from six offices (Antananarivo, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Kampala and Nairobi) in four countries (Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa and Uganda).

We work closely with leading Nigerian firm, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, which has offices in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, and have strong relationships with other leading law firms across the rest of Africa.

We provide coverage of francophone OHADA jurisdictions across the continent (including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo) from our office in Madagascar.

Our Kenyan, South African and Ugandan offices are representatives of Lex Mundi, a global association, with more than 160 independent law firms in all the major centres across the globe. This association gives us access to the best firms in each jurisdiction represented.

This article first appeared in Legal Week