"Africa is one of the best investment destinations that can yield rapid and prosperous returns to those who pay attention to the opportunities on the continent."
Could you share some recent projects Geni and Kebe has been involved in?
One of the most significant deals we were involved in was the acquisition of Teranga Gold by Endeavour Mining, where we represented Endeavour across all aspects of the deal pertaining to the Sabodala-Massawa asset, the largest producing gold mine in Senegal. In Ivory Coast we also assisted the merger between Northern Star and Saracen. In Burkina Faso we provide ongoing consultancy to the government on the allocation of mining titles; the Burkinabe government is assessing the current mining titles and their compliance to current regulations, as well as looking to improve the due diligence process to incentivize investment in the country.
What are your thoughts about the current M&A market?
The recent transactions earlier mentioned are only an indication of a booming M&A sector, especially on the mergers front, since most producing companies are looking at cost optimization strategies and potential synergies. The region is attracting more actors who will either obtain licenses to develop assets on their own or buy equity in assets already developed or in development.
This is good news for all service providers on the ground because more investment creates demand for due diligence services, whether these are legal or technical. The question that emerges is to what extent and in what way can local players get involved since large mining companies typically engage international law firms who end up reaching out to us and other local firms when handling transactions. A topical issue within the M&A sector is how best to team up with foreign law firms.
Are local content laws managing to realize the necessary value transfer to empower local skills development?
Local content remains an issue within the continent, despite the commendable measures taken by different governments. Quite recently, Senegal introduced new local content requirements in the oil and gas sector, and other governments across the continent take similar steps to fill the local skills gap. We can see more African entities capable of undertaking large-scale and significant work, and it is only fair they should claim greater protections and more participation. Nevertheless, a lot of the work that could be done locally is still performed by foreign companies. Local content laws should not just give locals more work, but more capability and expertise to act independently. The best way to achieve this skills transfer is through lucrative collaborations between local and foreign companies so that, over time, more tasks can be transferred down to locals. My opinion is that we are still a far stretch from that.
What are your thoughts on the significance of the recently signed AfCFTA and the ramifications it could have?
The AfCFTA is a tremendous opportunity to boost intra-African trade and investment across all industry sectors, including the extractive industries. The impacts of the agreement are multi-faceted and perhaps too early to grasp, but one of the areas I have made a case for is investment dispute resolution. Currently, the dispute settlement provision in the AfCFTA remains largely ambiguous, allowing for arbitration but not defining its nature or scope. In a recent paper published by the TDM (Transnational Dispute Management), I looked at the possibility and importance of establishing an African-based dispute settlement procedure through a permanent tribunal for investment disputes that will help, in turn, secure the success of the recent agreement.
Africa is often described as a high-risk, high-opportunity investment/business proposition. Is this label a fair one and how have you noted the ease of doing business improving in the continent?
Abstracting from my subjectivity as an African, I cannot think of a better place in the world for investment than Africa. The continent offers a unique combination of factors, with one of the youngest populations in the world, one of the fastest-growing middle classes, together with a dramatic transformation over the past one to two decades that have made some African places unrecognizable.
In many African countries, there have been incremental investments to improve infrastructure such as electricity provision, together with the adoption of new regulations to facilitate the process for setting up a business or to strengthen the rule of law. The rapid pace of development is emblematic of a very dynamic continent.
Could you share a few final words with our audience?
Africa is one of the best investment destinations that can yield rapid and prosperous returns to those who pay attention to the opportunities on the continent. I invite foreign investors to look at Africa, and I also encourage other Africans to open their arms to work together with international players because we need each other in equal measure.