Published in Chambers Client Report, Summer 2010
African law firms got through the global downturn. Now the recovery brings a new challenge: increasing competition from international firms.
As expected, Africa withstood the global downturn comparatively well. “Perhaps one of the least noticed aspects of the global downturn has been the resilience of the Sub-Saharan African region,” says the IMF’s World Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa 2010.
Taken as a whole, Africa avoided recession: Africa’s GDP growth slowed from 6.1% in 2007 to 5.4% in 2008 and 2.2% in 2009, but is expected to rebound to around 5.5% in 2010. Africa’s dislocation from global trade, often blamed for its underdevelopment, nevertheless protected it from the shocks of the financial crisis. “One advantage of being a backwater is that you don’t get hit by the problems affecting other countries,” admits David Mpanga, partner at Uganda’s AF Mpanga.
There was much variation around the continent, however. South Africa, the most developed economy in Africa and subsequently the most exposed to the financial crisis, experienced its first recession since the Apartheid era in the wake of the financial crisis. The result was a slowdown, if not a total stop, in transactions for South African law firms. “M&A in South Africa declined in value by around 60% between 2008 and 2009,” says Kevin Cron of Deneys Reitz. “We were fortunate enough to have a couple of large existing deals to keep us busy, but new instructions slowed substantially.”