Linklaters has been active in Africa for more than 50 years, and in an alliance with South Africa’s Webber Wentzel for the best part of a decade—a model which it says has paid dividends.
“The potential of Africa is enormous. We love it,” said Andrew Jones, partner and head of the firm’s Africa group, based in London. “It’s evolving work, which is exciting because there are always new things to be done, sometimes on the same projects,” said Jones, who has been working on African projects for more than 25 years.
In an interview with Law.com International, Jones highlights how his firm’s Africa Group has managed to maintain a 10-year growth trend, discusses the health of its tie-up with Webber Wentzel, and how he expects the firm to move into developing sectors on the continent as economic uncertainty awaits the world.
Africa has the advantage of being quite well hedged if there is a world recession, because it has a portfolio of 54 countries that go through different cycles, he said.
And there are those with natural resources and those without and some have dollar earnings and some don’t. So, if one or two countries have problems this will be balanced with those that don’t, he said.
Linklaters model is to provide coverage across the English, French and Portuguese speaking regions of the continent, through its London, Paris and Lisbon based Africa teams and its close alliance with Webber Wentzel in South Africa.
Many South African companies are listed in London, like Anglo American, which operates internationally, said Jones.
“If Linklaters and Webbers have clients in common, Webbers would cover the South African law aspects of deals, and our skills are available to each other for other matters.”
Deals might originate from either side and there is a flow of referrals both ways. “Actually it’s a nice balance,” said Jones.
“We knew Webber Wentzel really well before the alliance. It was just a case of doing more of the same more formally and expanding it.”
The two firms had many clients in common in the first place, including Anglo American, which is an important client of both firms.
“So, often we work together on the same transactions – just different pieces of it,” said Jones.
“The key to the success of our alliance is that we collaborate and coordinate so as to be able to offer clients the service best suited to their needs.”
He said Linkaters’ priority is to continue to make the most of its Africa coverage model and to develop and deepen its longstanding relationships with the best firms on the continent, including Webber Wentzel through its alliance.
“As such we are not currently contemplating other alliances,” he said.
Jones said the idea of having more African lawyers doing work in Africa has gained momentum during the last six or seven years, said Jones.
The firm also does Africa-focussed recruitment from the U.K., France, Portugal and the U.S.
He said Linklaters’ African clerkship programme recruits from leading universities in South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria.
“The programme offers opportunities across our global network, with many joining our team in London.”
He said the firm also does Africa-focused recruitment from the U.K., France, Portugal and the U.S.
“We have some 15 different African nationalities working in the firm, mainly in the Africa facing offices.”
After working in Paris or London or Lisbon some of these lawyers return to Africa and start their own firms, which brings new talent into these markets, he said.
“We are working closely with two of the lawyers who have done that.”
Jones said Linklaters typically has around 200 live Africa matters, “so a healthy pipeline of deals.”
The firm’s major recent African projects include the Nacala Corridor, a $5 billion rail and port project in Mozambique and Malawi.
This involved the construction/refurbishment and operation of a 912km railway through Mozambique and Malawi as well as the construction and operation of a coal terminal in the port of Nacala-à-Velha, Mozambique.
“The project lasted from 2014 to early 2022, in several phases,” said Francisco Ferraz de Carvalho, partner, and head of finance, energy and infrastructure, at Linklaters Lisbon office.
“The first chapter of the financing was in 2018 and the last was earlier this year,” he said.
Another notable deal saw Linklaters lead on the Coral FLNG $4.7 billion financing of a floating liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of Mozambique, said Ferraz de Carvalho.
“The largest project financing ever in Africa, Linklaters acted for the sponsors on this project, which will start producing gas this year.
“The project involved joint efforts between our London and Lisbon offices.”
Linklaters also has several corporate social responsibility projects on the go in Africa, including a Liberian case law project.
“We had over 100 lawyers producing text books for judges in Liberia, after the civil war ended, and it has been a 10-year project because everything was destroyed,” said Jones.
The firm managed to produce a summary of all the case laws going back 150 years.
“These are the main reference works that you will see every judge in Liberia carrying under their arm on their way to court,” he said.
Jones said the Africa market is buoyant, especially in the areas of mining, renewable energy, fintech, digital infrastructure, and data centers.
He says for many years mining companies were cautious about emerging market risk, including in Africa.
“But there is currently a huge interest in commodities, for example for making electric vehicle batteries. And a lot of that interest is due to Russia and parts of Asia being pretty closed.”
African countries from DRC to Zambia offer alternative sources to fulfill the demand for these commodities, “and that’s really exciting in terms of potential activity,” said Jones.
Justin Faye, energy and infrastructure partner at Linklaters Paris office and a member of the firm’s Africa team added that he’s working on a deal involving over 10 data centers that are to be built in seven African countries by European-based investors.
“And these are not the only ones happening. So this is a promising area for on-going investment.”
To develop Africa’s potential depends on investors taking a longer-term view of their investments and profit and understanding how each country works, said Ferraz de Carvalho.
It also depends on each country’s political environment, physical and legal security, and the resources governments allocate to negotiating contracts and ensuring an investor friendly environment.
So, what are the biggest challenges facing Linklaters in Africa right now?
“It is hard to generalise about Africa; each of its 54 countries face slightly different challenges and opportunities,” said Jones.
“Clearly, however, the dependence of the continent as a whole on imports may create a range of economic, social and political challenges.”