African law firm becomes the first to move into South Sudan
A law firm with offices in five African states has become the first to move into South Sudan, through an alliance with a local firm.
Pan-African law firm Centurion Law Group has become the first international firm to expand into South Sudan, through an alliance with local firm Awatkeer Law Chambers.
Signed on 10 April, the alliance means the firms will collaborate on public sector work, representing government, private and NGO clients, targeting what Centurion called the “huge economic potential” of the country.
Anuol Deng Kuoreng, the managing partner of Awatkeer, said in a statement: “South Sudan’s economic potential is huge, and it’s through partnerships like this that we can advance a pro-business agenda in our young nation. Quality legal services put us on an equal footing with neighbouring East African countries and help us attract much needed investment.”
His comments were echoed by NJ Ayuk, the Equatorial Guinea-based chief executive of Centurion, who said: “We have done some amazing deals in South Sudan and I believe we are teaming up with a very smart group of people that know the country well.”
He said the firm’s objective “is to help African businesses succeed and to promote investment across this great continent. South Sudan is open for business and we will be working tirelessly with Awatkeer to facilitate growth and promote the energy sector”.
Headquartered in Johannesburg, Centurion already has offices in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Mauritius, and Ghana, while Awatkeer Law Chambers was established in Juba 2012 and has 17 lawyers.
Centurion said the firms would “pool their collective networks, skills and expertise to serve businesses, government and non-governmental organizations in South Sudan” and that the South African firm would provide technical and marketing training to Awatkeer.
South Sudan has been independent from Sudan since 2011, but has been suffering from a civil war since late 2013. The conflict makes it difficult for the state to attract international investment, or law firms, but as a signatory to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s investor-state dispute resolution body, investors would at least be entitled to a degree of security, should they make such a move.
Sudan’s state-owned oil company Sudapet, was the first to take advantage of this, but ultimately lost in the arbitration it brought against the government in pursuit of compensation for its development of the oil industry before independence.
In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe pledged USD 25 million in assistance to the country, but its quality of governance, as tracked by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, has declined in recent years. South Sudan is ranked second-worst out of the 54 African states by the Ibrahim Index for overall governance, sustainable economic opportunity, human development, and safety and rule of law, and 49th for participation and human rights.
Firms trying to access the East African market, including South Sudan, have tended to look to build their presence in Kenya and Uganda.
Facing competition from international firms from Europe and the US, which are rushing to capitalise on the potential of the markets across the continent, African firms are increasingly building their own international presence, opening in new jurisdictions and trading on their local expertise.
In September 2016, Bowman Gilfillan, historically a South African firm, rebranded itself asBowmans, a pan-African firm that is fully integrated across several African jurisdictions, adding a new office in Tanzania at the start of 2017.