“It is not one-size-fits-all,” says Kem Ihenacho, 46, a partner at Latham and Watkins in London who, alongside Clement Fondufe, is head of the firm’s Africa practice.
“There are similarities to other so called “emerging economies” and between some African countries, but one needs to understand and appreciate each country’s nuances .”
Ihenacho’s expertise is in M&A and private equity investment, with many funds being managed out of London, directing capital across Africa. One recent deal spanned nine African countries. His role is to prepare safe conduits for capital and then ensure it’s protected. Africa is seeing capital flowing into an array of industries from the traditional oil and mining to financial services, FMCG and telecommunications.
“We invest a huge amount of time working alongside local law firms that know the intricacies of each market. These partnerships are a critical foundation to enable us to advise on any investment,” he says.
“Despite some negative headlines, there are high value transactions taking place in Africa and there is growing interest. Investors remain interested we help them on many fronts to mitigate risk.”
His advice to first time entrants is to visit the area where they want to invest.
“It is very difficult to fully assess both the challenges and the scale of the opportunities and rewards without spending time ‘on the ground’. We often connect our international clients with the local business community, and vice-versa.”
What Ihenacho finds most invigorating about working on the continent is the the challenge of creating partnerships between successful African entrepreneurs and businesses, and international investors. “These partnerships require patience and flexibility on both sides, but can be very rewarding!”
Prejudices linked to perceptions of poor legislative frameworks and issues of corruption remain sensitive issues but, he says, these issues are not unique to Africa and need to be assessed on a deal by deal basis.
Ihenacho has been a partner at Latham and Watkins since 2014 and in 2018 was appointed as one of the global Chairs of its private equity practice. Prior to that he was a partner at Clifford Chance .
“For a young lawyer becoming a partner always seemed distant and very hard to achieve. It did feel like a big achievement and led to a very exciting time in my career and the opportunity to go out and build a business with my fellow partners, which I have relished.”
He read for his law degree at the University of Cardiff after finishing at the Bablake Independent School in Coventry.
While Ihenacho is Birmingham-born he has familial links with the university town, Enugu, in eastern Nigeria. His father is a Professor of cardiology, who, his son says, has been his life-long role model for his determination to achieve his goals and who became a leading expert in his field despite humble rural roots.
His mother is a nurse who retrained as a teacher. The family lived in Nigeria when Ihenacho was in primary school but returned to the UK when he was 11. Later this year he and his wife are planning to take their three sons aged 11, 8 and 6 to Nigeria for their first visit.
While Enugu is known as “the coal city” it is a town set in hills covered in lush vegetation. It is the birthplace of the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and less than a 100 kilometres from Ogidi where Chinua Achebe was born.
“I am excited to be taking them home to see family and enjoy some good Nigerian food!” says Ihenacho. “It’s a trip I am really looking forward to.”