In an insights series (of podcasts and digital content), Webber Wentzel explores the impact the AfCFTA will have on the continent, for intra-African business relationships and for investors.
In this kick-off conversation, Christo Els, Webber Wentzel's Senior Partner, speaks to Africa Legal’s Tom Pearson about his impressions of how he believes the AfCFTA will change the way Africans do business.
As global power and allegiances shift, and the impact of the pandemic starts to be understood, says Christo, so too are Africans realising how their resilience and ability to make-do can mean a new kind of future for their countries.
AfCFTA, he says, is prompting a more inward-looking approach to trade with an emphasis on focusing closer to home for business. This in turn is bringing about a new confidence and appreciation for the benefits of working together. There is also growing recognition that Africa’s spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation are its greatest strengths and should be celebrated and developed.
“Covid has meant that within Africa the focus is on being more self-reliant. We should be able to ‘produce’ and not be so dependent on others.” This shift in emphasis means there is likely to be an increase in infrastructure development, Christo said.
Already there is enormous innovation.
Telecommunications, for instance, has been an industry of remarkable growth across all 54 African countries. Whereas most countries gradually moved from terrestrial lines to mobile phones, in Africa users leapfrogged straight to mobile phones.
“Today, in Africa, the growth of the mobile phone sector has outstripped every other region in the world. And East Africa leads the globe with its developments in mobile banking.”
This is where the role of advisory firms (like law firms, banks, accounting firms) becomes important as they enable start-ups to expand their innovations into multinational businesses. Webber Wentzel was committed to supporting start-ups and scale ups and helping them put in place the correct legal frameworks to thrive and expand.
It is an exciting time for a “very African practice” like Webber Wentzel, says Christo. Headquartered in South Africa and founded over 150 years ago – we are working with clients with business activities all across Africa. Our relationships with other African law firms and our alliance with global law firm, Linklaters really positions us well to provide exceptional client service.
Another area of potential growth on the continent is arbitration, says Christo. Complex disputes often involve travelling to the centres of arbitration like Paris or London but the thinking now was increasingly that this was something that could be done “at home.”
“All of this reflects a continent moving towards self-reliance,” says Christo.
For law firms it means following clients and it was important to see Africa “not as full of risk but full of opportunity.”
What this means for Christo is, at last, the coming of age of a continent.
“At Webber Wentzel we want to be part of Africa’s success, to increase connectedness and selling its potential. It is about being facilitators and overcoming challenges – to be able to do that is a real pleasure and a privilege.”
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