Southern Africa: Neighbourhood watch

Often overshadowed by their bigger and more affluent neighbour South Africa, the southern states of the continent are starting to show their mettle

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Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have often been overlooked by investors favouring their larger neighbour, South Africa. But although the economies remain small, all have enormous potential and law firms are gearing up in preparation.


Zimbabwe is the most difficult of the four as it remains wracked by political instability, which lawyers believe is still putting investors off. Botswana holds the most interest for law firms, with its significant amount of untapped natural resources.

Botswana and Namibia are still fairly restrictive when it comes to the practice of law – the latter prevents firms from advertising while the former allows associations but foreign firms cannot operate under their own name.

List of firms








Managing partner: John Carr-Hartley

Total number of partners: 3

Total number of lawyers: 9

Founded: 1974

Networks/associations and date joined: Lex Africa, Meritas

Top deals of 2013

  • Advised the consultants for the North South Carrier Project, a water pipeline from the north of Botswana to the south.
  • Advised the Botswana Building Society on its conversion into a company incorporated under the Companies Act.
  • Represented the Botswana Post on its proposed merger with the Botswana Savings Bank.

Lex Africa’s Botswana member Armstrongs celebrates its 40th birthday this year. The firm has a strong corporate and commercial focus, with a thriving energy and mining practice.

The firm has three partners. In mid-2012 it hired commercial partner Mark Mckee from Minchin & Kelly but lost name partner Neill Armstrong to Collins Newman & Co last year.

Recent deals have seen Armstrongs advise on property transactions, major financings and transactions related to state-owned companies such as Botswana Post.

Armstrongs works with a number of international firms, both US and UK-headquartered.

Collins Newman & Co

Managing partner: Parks Tafa

Total number of partners: 4

Total number of lawyers: 18

Founded: 1977

Networks/associations: African Legal Network

Collins Newman & Co is at the start of a new stage of its development. Late last year the firm hired the former senior partner of rival Armstrongs, Neill Armstrong, to spearhead a change the way it works and expand the services it offers.

Armstrong says his hire was designed to “deepen the firm’s ability to project-manage larger transactions”. The plan is to team up with professionals from other sectors – such as accountancy or corporate finance – to offer clients a one-stop-shop on big deals.

The firm wants to help position Botswana as a gateway jurisdiction to sub-Saharan Africa, partly by making sure it can provide not only pure legal opinion but also advice from a business standpoint.

Collins Newman has also been developing its corporate and commercial focus as international investment has picked up in Botswana. In 2009 the firm joined the African Legal Network, which partner Rizwan Desai sees as a vehicle for working internationally while safeguarding the firm’s independence.  

Collins Newman has worked with international firms including all four magic circle firms and Slaughter and May . It has also picked up work from Norton Rose Fulbright in South Africa and further afield. South Africa’s ENSafrica has also been a referral partner.

Collins Newman’s strategy means further recruitment is inevitable, says Desai.

Minchin & Kelly

Managing partner: Terence Dambe

Total number of partners: 4

Total number of lawyers: 8

Founded: 1890

Networks/associations: DLA Piper Africa Group

Minchin & Kelly has been a member of DLA Piper’s Africa Group for just over a year, having previously been part of legacy SNR Denton ’s Africa network. The full-service firm boasts eight lawyers and experience across a range of practice areas.

Last year saw Minchin & Kelly invest in a new website to improve the information it offers to clients. The firm prides itself on its staff development; chief operating officer Daniel Jamali completed an MBA last year and the firm has sponsored secretaries to become paralegals.

Recent hires include former barrister Graham Howard, who joined in 2012 as a senior associate and has since been made up to partner and head of the commercial team. A number of other associates have also joined in the past few years, marking a period of significant growth, although partner Mark Mckee left for Armstrongs in 2012.

Key clients include Standard Chartered Bank Botswana and the Morupule Colliery, a joint venture between the government of Botwsana and mining giant De Beers.



Ellis Shilengudwa

Total number of partners: 4

Total number of lawyers: 15

Founded: 1997

Networks/associations: DLA Piper Africa Group

Having restructured and rebranded several times, Ellis Shilengudwa entered a new stage  late last year when it joined DLA Piper’s Africa Group as its Namibian member.

Partner Jurie Badenhorst says the firm joined the network to boost referrals, particularly from South Africa.

Ellis Shilengudwa has seen its biggest period of growth since 2009, when it converted from a partnership to being incorporated. At the time the firm had six lawyers. Today it has 15 and Badenhorst reports turnover growth of about 30 per cent a year for the past three years. While this rate should slow a little, he still expects revenue to rise by 15 per cent every year.

The partnership is young, with an average age of under 40, and decisions are taken collaboratively. Badenhorst says the firm has invested in technology that is equal to that of much bigger firms, including on the knowledge management and billing sides.

Engling Stritter & Partners 

Managing partner: Hans-Bruno Gerdes

Total number of partners: 6

Total number of lawyers: 9 (plus 2 trainees)

Founded: 1958

Networks/associations: None

Top deals of 2013:

  • Advised CGNPC Uranium Resources Co and its subsidiary Swakop Uranium on the debt and equity financing of the Husab Uranium Project. Husab will be the second-largest uranium mine in the world.
  • Acted for Dundee Precious Metals as local counsel on a long-term committed revolving credit facility of $150m (£90m) with BNP Paribas, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Raiffeisen Bank International, Royal Bank of Canada and Unicredit Bank, which led the transaction.
  • Advised a lender in relation to a secured equipment facility and related intercreditor issues for B2 Gold Namibia’s financing of the purchase of a fleet of mining equipment for its Otjikoto gold mine.

Engling Stritter & Partners has a history stretching 50 years, but the next few could be among the most significant. Last year the firm signed a co-operation agreement with South Africa’s Webber Wentzel, in which the firms agreed to be each other’s preferred referral partner.

The relationship stems from flows of work in and out of Namibia’s larger neighbour and is part of Engling Stritter’s transformation into a firm that is more focused on corporate and commercial work.

The six-partner firm is full-service. Although its emphasis is on corporate transactions it provides local advice on all areas of law. But managing partner Hans-Bruno Gerdes says in the future there is likely to be a greater focus on corporate transactions and international work.

The Webber Wentzel relationship has given Engling Stritter access to a deeper pool of resources, including technology, training and secondment opportunities. It also deepens a relationship with Webber Wentzel’s associated firm in the UK, Linklaters , although Engling Stritter routinely works with other UK-headquartered outfits such as Clifford Chance .

Gerdes says Engling Stritter has a good record when it comes to retaining international clients.

Koep & Partners

Founding partner: Peter Koep

Total number of partners: 5

Total number of lawyers: 11

Founded: 1982

Networks/associations: Lex Mundi

With 11 lawyers Koep & Partners is one of the larger firms in Namibia and focuses primarily on international work, notably in the finance and mining sectors. It is also gearing up to ensure it can advise on the country’s growing alternative energy sector.

“We’ve got lots of sunshine and space, and that’s what people like,” says founding partner Peter Koep.

Namibia may not need all the electricity it generates, but there is likely to be a buoyant export market and Koep is predicting increased contact with Chinese businesses and law firms.

Lex Mundi, of which the firm became the Namibian member in 2011, provides a wide referral network, but Koep & Partners also works with firms across Africa and international outfits such as Allen & Overy , Herbert Smith Freehills and Norton Rose Fulbright.

Substantial growth is unlikely, though, says Koep.

“It’s hardly worth growing much unless there will be a sustainable amount of work which, at the moment, is far from sure,” he says.



Chibesakunda & Co

Managing partner: Mwelwa Chibesakunda

Total number of partners: 5

Total number of lawyers: 18 (plus 6 trainees)

Founded: 2006

Networks/associations: DLA Piper Africa Group

Top deals of 2013

  • Local adviser to Syngenta AG in the acquisition of MRI Group – one of Zambia’s leading maize seed producers.
  • Local adviser to lead arrangers and joint bookrunners Barclays Bank and Deutsche Bank for Zambia’s inaugural 10-year bond issue for $750m.
  • Local adviser to Standard Chartered Bank Zambia plc, Stanbic Bank Zambia plc and Citibank Zambia Ltd in relation to the local leg of a club financing of the SABMiller Group.

Chibesakunda & Co has been affiliated with DLA Piper since its foundation seven years ago but, unlike some members of the Africa Group, does not carry the DLA branding. While the larger firm provides some operational support, to all intents and purposes Chibesakunda remains independent and is happy to work with outfits including Clifford Chance, Clyde & Co , Linklaters and Norton Rose Fulbright.

About 70 per cent of its work is international. In particular, Chibesakunda is on several major banks’ panels, including Barclays and Standard Chartered.

Banking head Mutale Kasonde says the DLA association is helpful in terms of reputation.

“There’s an expectation that the client will get quite a high level of service and quality of work,” he says. “That was key to our strategy – we always wanted to have the same standards as a London law firm but sitting in Zambia.”

DLA Piper has provided Chibesakunda with support in areas such as technology, with its billing and time-management systems recommended by South African affiliate Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. Secondments and training are also invaluable, says Kasonde, and the firm is trying to align its pitch document style with DLA Piper’s.

Ultimately, Chibesakunda plans to expand. Kasonde says he hopes  the need for foreign co-counsel will dissipate in time.

“We’d like to be in a situation where the client can come to us directly, without feeling they need to have English counsel sitting on the deal,” he says. “We’re working towards that.”

Musa Dudhia & Co

Senior partner and chairman: Arshad Dudhia

Total number of partners: 4

Total number of lawyers: 9

Founded: 1958

Networks/associations: Africa Legal Network

Top deals of 2013

  • Advised on Chambishi Metals’ sale to Tianjin, alongside Jones Day . The transaction involved the multimillion-dollar transfer of mining assets from the Eurasia Natural Resource Company to Nkana Alloy Smelting Company and involved the Zambian government and state-owned mining company ZCCM Investment Holdings.
  • Acted for MRI Seed Zambia in its 100 per cent share acquisition by Syngenta, working alongside McKenna Long & Aldridge.
  • Represented the Zambian subsidiary of IHS Holding on its  acquisition of more than 700 mobile communication towers from MTN Zambia on both the acquisition, together with Allen & Overy, and the financing by Standard Chartered Bank.

Musa Dudhia & Co has tripled in size in eight years, although it remains a small firm with only nine lawyers. However, managing partner Arshad Dudhia says the firm’s longevity – 56 years – has enabled it to maintain a solid position in the local market with good contacts. Indeed, founder Abdulla Dudhia is still a partner.

Musa Dudhia’s small size does not stop it from acting on some of Zambia’s biggest deals. It is helped by its membership of the Africa Legal Network, which has been the referral point for a number of transactions.

Dudhia says the firm would like to grow, but the shallow legal market makes hiring tough, with only a handful of lawyers succeeding in the annual bar exam.

“There’s scope for growth, the question is where to find it,” he says, adding that the firm is looking for Zambian lawyers working overseas who want to return. In the meantime, the network provides extra capacity where needed.

Musa Dudhia also works alongside firms such as Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.



Scanlen and Holderness

Senior partner and chairman: Sternford Moyo

Total number of partners: 10

Total number of lawyers: 31

Founded: 1894

Networks/associations: Lex Africa

Scanlen and Holderness is one of the longest established firms in the Africa Elite, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. As senior partner Sternford Moyo says, the firm has grown up with many of its key clients – and survived some.

The firm has become steadily more international. Moyo notes that in the late-1980s more clients were asking for cross-border advice. As a result, Scanlen and Holderness was one of the founding members of Lex Africa in 1993. It is also part of global network Meritas.

Moyo says many referrals come from firms working with the parent company of an existing client. South Africa is a close trading partner of Zimbabwe, and the firm has worked regularly with Webber Wentzel there.

Growth will depend on the expansion of the Zimbabwean economy, which is beset by uncertainty and lack of liquidity.

Key facts


GDP: $14.8bn

Inflation: 6.2%

Population: 2m

Life expectancy at birth: 47

Unemployment: 17.5%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group

Key facts


GDP: $12.6bn

Inflation: 4.4%

Population: 2.3m

Life expectancy at birth: 63

Unemployment: 27.4%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group, Namibia Statistics Agency

Key facts


GDP: $14.5bn 

Inflation: 7.3%

Population: 29.8m

Life expectancy at birth: 56

Unemployment: 6.25%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group, Central Statistical Office

Key facts


GDP: $9.7bn

Inflation: 5.7%

Population: 14m

Life expectancy at birth: 51

Unemployment: 11%

Source: World Bank, African Development Bank Group, Zimstat