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Businesses risk wasting Africa opportunities through lack of understanding

- 11 November 2018

Whilst investor interest in Africa is at its highest ever, businesses risk wasting Africa opportunities through lack of understanding. Research based on conversations with key arbitration institutions and business leaders shows that one of the main issues is treating Africa as a country rather than a continent. The risks people face in doing business in Africa is assuming that because it's African; that all the jurisdictions are the same. Doing in business in any of Africa’s 54 countries requires on the ground knowledge of the legal, regulatory and business environments that are as unique as each individual country. It also requires an adviser that can transcend multiple legal systems, laws, cultures and languages across Anglophone, Lusophone and Francophone Africa.

Webber Wentzel and Linklaters recently hosted a seminar focused on Mitigating Risk for Growth and Sustainability in Africa. The event aimed to create an insights platform for clients by bringing experts from Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Paris, Lisbon and London with speakers including Priyesh Daya, Head of Dispute Resolution Webber Wentzel and Matthew Weiniger, Global Co-Head of International Arbitration – Linklaters, London, to discuss a number of issues related to doing business and managing risk on the African continent

A number of themes emerged during the seminar's discussions, from paying attention to the issues of risk mitigation and dispute resolution upfront at the very initial phases of contracting. Including dispute resolution experts at the early stages of contractual negotiation can have significant cost and timing implications where these arrangements sour at a later stage. To arbitration becoming the go to tool to resolving disputes on the continent. Many African countries are looking to compete on the global stage when it comes to offering arbitration fora. Countries like South Africa, Mauritius and to some extent Rwanda are leading Africa in the arbitration space. These countries are modernising their laws around arbitration and passing new acts. South Africa recently introduced its International Arbitration Act and Mauritius has the Mauritian Arbitration Act. Both countries have incorporated United Nations standards into these laws and are signatories of the New York Convention.

The overall message from the seminar was simply: Risk mitigation in Africa has its own complexities and requirements; arbitration is a growing and preferred mechanism for dispute resolution on the continent; and Africa is working hard to position itself as an arbitration hub (with South Africa and Mauritius really leading the charge).

The seminar ended off with managing risks insights from the business/ corporate perspective. What was clear from corporate counsel was that few matters on the continent raise simple commercial issues - and are increasingly complex and nuanced. Working with "one-stop-shop" legal advisers who put clients first, offer a multidisciplinary service and have deep relationships and sector expertise makes managing risk related matters on the continent much easier and more effective.

The full programme is available here. For more insights from this seminar, watch the video below.

Watch more of our Africa Insights series: