The 2023 Africa Legal General Counsel Forum at the Investing in African Mining Indaba (MI23) brought together a wide range of lawyers from various firms and countries across the continent, writes Sheena Carnie.
With four panel discussions focusing on the practicalities of ESG, the value of understanding financial issues as a general counsel (GC), how to add value while avoiding burnout, and whether arbitration truly is the disputes silver bullet for African mining conflicts, the audience was given an opportunity to learn from and pose questions to a wide variety of subject experts.
Titus Edjua, Partner at DLA Piper who sponsors the GC Forum, referred to the firm’s (WIN) report which examines the future of the African legal teams and is part of their programme for in-house lawyers. The report acknowledges that general counsel around the world struggle to identify “best practice” when it comes to building and managing a legal function, but for those working in and across Africa, understanding how to structure and organise a legal team is made all the more difficult by a lack of useful data.
“On the back of that report, it was a no-brainer for us to get involved with the GC Forum. It’s just an extension of what we do as a firm,” explained Edjua. “We see the development of law in Africa as really important. We are the only international law firm with a presence in 20 countries in Africa and each of those offices is also an external advisor to local clients and the local in-house teams. This makes us more acutely aware of the challenges facing in-house teams. Working with our clients to navigate these challenges is a major driver for us and why we wanted to sponsor this event.”
Attendees were enthusiastic in their responses to the GC Forum and what they gained from MI23 as a whole..
Karim Maalioun, partner – Finance, Projects and Restructuring at DLA Piper: “What was really interesting to see was people’s appetite to explore more of the African continent. We know that Africa is underexplored, so the fact that there is a real willingness now to converge and take a more common approach by mining companies is fantastic. Having a ‘sustainable way of mining’ was definitely the key phrase of this indaba. People want to make the process of granting mining licences more transparent, leaving less room for discretion and avoiding any interpretation.”
Narjess Naouar, general counsel and company secretary, Moxico Resources: “I have been a general counsel in mining for 15 years and it’s great to be able to network with peers, meet up, discuss and share our experiences and the issues we deal with on a daily basis, so I’m looking forward already to next year’s session. I think it’s inherent to mining that there are always unexpected things to learn and every day is part of the learning curve, but I think that something I’ve really taken away from today’s session on ESG is that we’re moving away from just talking about ESG and talking about sustainability, I think that’s something I really support and I really look forward to seeing it happen. I’m happy to see the conversation around ESG moving forward.”
Sandra Bates, general counsel at Elemental Altus Royalties Corp: “Being a mining GC is quite different to other GC roles, so there are some other ways of interacting with other mining GCs, but this is certainly the greatest concentration that you can be near. Often we don’t really get a chance to sit and talk about the different issues that come up, and all of us are dealing with the same key issues in our different silos and so it’s like having your brethren around you. For me, coming out of a law firm where you’ve always got someone you can go down the corridor and see and pull on their experience, you know I really miss that.”
Kerusha Pillay, advocate and advisory board member of Women in Mining Business (WiMBIZ SA): “The mining Indaba has been an incredible platform to assist women in mining to network, and Africa Legal has been a great part of this. It has created an opportunity which women would not otherwise have, to meet with the industry leaders, particularly in the critical mineral supply arena, in furthering the objectives of the just energy transition. The struggle that most women face is accessing these opportunities and accessing finance. With the various panel discussions we have gained a lot of insights and made a lot of useful contacts.”
Jumoke Fajemirokun, ENR Advisory: “The session that impacted me most was the Money, Money, Money session. It was good to hear perspectives from different in-house counsel on the value that they bring to the decision-making process and how one must not be isolated from the process and must ask questions on the finance side if things are not clear. My final takeaway was to do some learning on finance for non-financial people because that helps you to understand where your other colleagues are coming from. Overall it has been a great mix of people and the networking has been great. I think the audience was really diverse, and from various other sectors connected to the extractives industry, and I’m glad I came.”
Dean Manyengawana, INMISO: “This GC Forum has made me realise that some of the issues that are facing African talent can actually be resolved. So now what we need to do is we need African talent to solve African problems because I think we are best placed to give advice on what it is that companies need to do. We have so many insights on how to do things and how to interact with communities, and we’re embracing technology now, just like one of the panellists was talking about using Tik Tok and all of that. Platforms like the GC Forum allow us to showcase all of the things that we’re often not able to state in the open.”
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