We need to celebrate our Africaness says Baker McKenzie’s Head of Africa in Johannesburg
“When business people ask me about investing in Africa, the first thing I tell them is that when it comes to business, there is no such thing as ‘Africa’. You will be investing in specific African markets or countries and not in ‘Africa’. Investors should never assume one country is the same as another in Africa. Even if they are geographical neighbours, each country is vastly different,” says Wildu du Plessis, head of Africa for Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg.
“Africa is a big place, there are 54 maybe even 56 (depending on how you count) countries in Africa. If an investor is targeting a specific country they need to be clear on the markets they are targeting as different markets have different realities. Investors must know and understand each market they are active in or want to invest in and they must be prepared to delve deep to get the information they need to make an informed decision. They should look at the target country’s approach to governance and corruption; is there rule of law? They must understand the GDP and how that impacts on population growth and economic growth and the interplay between them.
“If you are going to invest in Africa, it helps to be adaptable and nimble in how you approach business as things can change very quickly. I feel you can’t work in Africa from behind a cherrywood desk in Johannesburg or London, you have to be on the ground, getting your hands dirty, so to speak. Having deep and trusted relationships with local specialists across the continent is also an integral part of doing business in Africa,” he notes.
Du Plessis says that in sub-Saharan Africa, countries such as Rwanda and Ghana (despite some ups and downs) are getting it right in terms of striking the right balance between attracting investment and protecting the rights of the country and its people. These countries do not have major governance concerns in terms of compliance and corruption and they are attracting a lot of interest and investment.
“Botswana, although a lot smaller, is another country that clients are asking us more about. These countries have provided investors with certainty and clarity and they are now reaping the benefits of their good governance,” he notes.
Other countries that have the ability to attract investment but that need work include South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
“All three have large GDPs and big populations but there are concerns over governance and their ability to implement good policy. These countries need to focus on increasing certainty and clarity for investors and then make sure everything is driven towards making that certainty happen. These countries could get it right if they improved their governance and had the will to implement the right policies to encourage investment.”
Du Plessis says that in terms of opportunities for the legal profession, a tide has turned in terms of demand for African lawyers. Businesses working in Africa are increasingly saying that they want African lawyers to do African work.
“As South African lawyers we need to learn to celebrate the fact that we are African,” says du Plessis. “And we have put ourselves in positions whereby we are able to deliver the best possible service to our clients in Africa. There is a huge demand for legal expertise across all sectors on the continent, but I think retail and telecoms, power and infrastructure are providing exciting opportunities for lawyers at present.”
Wildu lives in Johannesburg with his wife and three daughters. He loves the vibrancy of Johannesburg.
“It is a real African city with access to high tech financial systems and infrastructure. In Johannesburg, you never doubt that you are in Africa, and you have the best of both worlds,” he says.
Wildu hails from a legal family, his parents, siblings and his wife are all lawyers.
“I could say I chose a career in law because I come from a family of lawyers, but actually what drove me to this profession is being able to help people navigate complex waters. To go through a myriad of challenges and issues and make that as simple as possible for clients so they can get things done. Lawyers are uniquely placed to do this and that is what makes me tick.”
Wildu completed his LLB and Bachelor of Civil Law (both cum laude) at Pretoria University and then did a Higher Diploma in Tax law from Rand Afrikaans University. At Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, he represents and advises leading domestic and international financial institutions, private equity groups and corporates in connection with a wide range of financing transactions, acquisitions, restructurings, regulatory and general finance matters.
“What I love most about Africa are the people – no matter where you travel the people are vibrant and welcoming and it is such an exciting time to be part of the African story.
“And there is no place that smells like Africa after the rain. Whether you are in Kenya, Zambia or South Africa, you know you are home because you can smell that rain.”