European, Australian, Asian and North American companies looking to invest in the flourishing African energy sector should work with local advisors from the start to ensure their projects have the greatest chance of success, says Shakwa Nyambe, managing director of Namibian firm SNC Inc.
“A legal service provider in the specific country you’re operating in, who understands the local laws and all the requirements from regulators, will assist you in getting what you want quickly and within the confines of the law,” says Nyambe. “It’s advisable to work with someone who understands the industry, the local economy and who understands a lot about the country.”
Multinational companies who solely rely on international firms to advise on energy projects in Namibia and wider Africa risk delays and a variety of pitfalls that can occur from not fully grasping the nuances of particular legal frameworks and community or political situations.
“If you don’t involve local expertise in the beginning, and you only involve them only when you have issues, it takes time to clean up a problem,” says Nyambe.
Nyambe witnessed the growing need for highly skilled, local energy law and business experts while working as an in-house counsel for the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia.
“The energy sources in Africa are what will drive industrialisation. So, oil and gas, electricity, and renewable energy play a crucial role as most countries are still developing and trying to build industries. It’s a very important sector for which legal and business skills are required to ensure Africa is best served, and the companies involved in Africa, the investors, are also best served.”
The keystone value of the fast-growing African energy sector prompted Nyambe to complete a Masters in Oil and Gas Law in Aberdeen, then later establish what is now SNC Incorporated, a leading energy law firm based in Windhoek, Namibia to develop and nourish local expertise.
“I could see the need for these services in the private sector, to help investors, to help the government and oil companies operating in Africa,” says Nyambe. “We are building a very strong and formidable team, skilled in the energy and resources sector.”
The advantages of having international-quality legal and business advice based on the ground, says Nyambe, include prompt turnaround for dealing with various stakeholders or regulators when issues arise or actions need to be taken, a greater understanding of the peculiarities of local frameworks and requirements, and better knowledge of the local players and how to best deal with decision makers.
“Companies or investors from Europe, Australia, Canada, the UK, or the US may not be familiar with some of these things but think that by reading our legislation they are covered,” says Nyambe. “But they still need that expertise and skill on the ground, the local knowledge. It’s very, very important. Reading the law of an African country, if you don’t have experience working in that jurisdiction, will not help you as an investor if you don’t work with local service providers. You end up missing out on a lot of things. You may have to take one or two or three steps back and redo things, or miss out on a major acquisition.”
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