Lawyer shares five pieces of advice for companies expanding into Africa

Jacqueline Musiitwa is the founder and managing partner of the Hoja Law Group, a firm started in 2008 that advises on commercial, political and intellectual property law for companies doing business in Africa. The firm has offices in New York and Kigali and primarily focuses on markets in eastern and southern Africa.

Jacqueline Musiitwa, founder and managing partner

Jacqueline Musiitwa, founder and managing partner of the Hoja Law Group

In addition to assisting companies with doing business in Africa, the Hoja Law Group has experience in advising African governments, and Musiitwa has served as an advisor to the Rwandan Minister of Justice concerning investment, trade and infrastructure. She is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a 2014 New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute, among various other accolades.

How we made it in Africa asked Musiitwa to share her professional advice to companies wanting to grow their African footprint.

1. Find a good lawyer

According to Musiitwa, it’s important for companies to find good local counsel that has extensive experience. She says companies should make use of the global Chambers & Partners list that ranks the best law firms in different jurisdictions.

“So whenever I am doing work in a different country, I definitely go to the Chambers Global list and see who they have ranked as first and second in the jurisdiction, depending on what I need. I also inquire locally about who has a good reputation. I inquire from other foreign lawyers who have done business in the country and, when possible, clients who have been represented by a said local counsel.”

The International Financial Law Review (IFLR) ranking is another list that can be used to select counsel.

While these lists are reputable, Musiitwa says there is no substitute for finding local experts through speaking to people in the market and conducting one’s own research. “There definitely are great local experts and sometimes they get overshadowed by large international firms,” she notes.

2. Subscribe to African-focused research firms

Adequate market research is not easily available in many African countries, and Musiitwa’s clients often approach her with queries on how to gain access to information. However, she says there are an increasing number of research firms producing African market intelligence and she recommends that company leaders subscribe to at least a couple of them.

3. Research how other businesses are doing in Africa

Musiitwa advises investors trying to assess the potential for their business on the continent to first look at the figures and margins of other companies operating in Africa as an indicator for what to expect. Investors could also use the stock markets (for example in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa) as a gauge as to what returns can be expected in a given market.

4. Spend time in-country

In addition to the research conducted from a foreign office, Musiitwa emphasises the importance of companies spending time in the country that they wish to expand to.

“It involves going to the country, getting to know the people, the culture, and understanding them. And I think that is where – in the conversation between Chinese investment versus western investment and who will finally win the day – I think a lot of Chinese companies do come in and get a feel [for an African market] much longer than I would say European and American companies.”

“And I am talking about smaller companies [especially] because the multinationals do have the resources so they do whatever it takes to get the information that they need,” says Musiitwa.

5. And of course… find local partners

On top of all this research, Musiitwa concluded that companies expanding into Africa will benefit from having credible local partners who have experience operating within the market.