Norton Rose Fulbright: Driving growth and transformation in Africa through world-class legal services

AVCA Member Spotlight on Bayo Odubeko

Bayo Odubeko is a Partner in the London office of Norton Rose Fulbright. We caught up with him to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on deal-making in Africa, the regulatory developments driving investment, and how Norton Rose Fulbright is supporting clients to tackle the energy transition.

How was Norton Rose Fulbright able to support clients to successfully navigate the disruption and uncertainty caused by the global health crisis?

From the onset of the pandemic, our priority has been on the health and welfare of our people, clients, and communities, both in Africa and across the globe.

eaCOVID-19 has of course had a major impact on all our clients. We have maintained a resolute focus on providing a continuous legal service to our clients, assisting them in the navigation of the wide range of legal and economic impacts of COVID-19 that are leading to uncertainty and volatility across all sectors.

As well as issues around staff and customer safety, the situation continues to present for our clients a range of complex and often multi-jurisdictional operational, legal, and economic issues. We have been able to harness the knowledge that we have gained as a global organisation and transfer it from one region to another as the situation evolves around the world. We have teams of global industry sector specialists focused on horizon scanning and ensuring that we are providing our clients with up-to-date information related to a wide range of issues.

Operational resilience and a clear strategy are essential for organisations not only to survive but to thrive. Some of the issues impacting our clients have included disruption to their supply chains, meeting contractual obligations, bringing people back to the workplace and implications under funding arrangements. Many of these issues need to be navigated on a cross-border basis. Our multi-disciplinary teams take a holistic approach to risk management that spans business units, areas of law and national boundaries.

The private sector has a critical role to play in the development of Africa and not just in mitigating climate risks. Much of the investment in energy transition in Africa is private sector led. Not only are African governments not investing enough in climate mitigation, but they also need to accelerate the establishment of an enabling environment for energy transition.

Energy is a key practice area for Norton Rose Fulbright. As climate challenges deepen globally, countries around the world are acting and making commitments to reach net-zero by 2050. What does that action look like in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa?

To tackle the energy transition, our clients need to be supported by a global, dynamic, efficient, reliable, and innovative law firm that can meet their needs now and anticipate their needs of the future. Our energy transition global strategic initiative (GSI) is anchored in our client’s needs — identifying the risks and opportunities and supporting them in whichever strategic direction they choose to take. We have launched our energy transition website, showcasing our full-service offering and examples of our work.

We are seeing global private equity firms pouring capital into fast-growing sectors such as solar, carbon capture, and battery storage. Our energy transition GSI team works closely with our Private Equity GSI team in order to better serve our energy and private equity clients as the private equity boom into energy transition-related assets continues to grow.

Africa is committed to energy transition, though certain regions and countries, such as Kenya, Egypt, and South Africa, have significantly more ambitious, clearer and more developed strategies than others. In Kenya, landmark projects like Lake Turkana Wind Project and Kipeto Wind Project have shown Kenya’s commitment to energy transition. Norton Rose Fulbright advised on the 753MW Benban Solar Park in Egypt, which when completed will be the largest solar installation in the world. Rooftop solar in Africa is also developing rapidly with private equity-backed Starsight Power, perhaps leading the field in this area. Other rooftop solar and solar to home businesses (also backed by private equity) include Daystar Power, Easy Solar and M-Kopa.

The way that we work has changed due to the rapid switch to providing services digitally over the past 15 months. How do you see the delivery of legal services in Africa changing in the future?

We expect to see Africa continue to adopt the latest technology and advancements that will benefit the delivery of legal services and drive efficiency, much in the same way as we are experiencing in the UK. Certain countries in Africa are often adopting disruptive technologies and processes quicker than more developed countries. Whereas developed countries have often invested significant amounts in outdated infrastructure and technology that tends to inhibit their advancement, Africa and other emerging markets are able to leapfrog such infrastructure and technology, and adopt the most current and efficient models. For example, currently, global firms are finding that the physical office space which they are locked into under long term expensive leases represents an obstacle to agile working and the working arrangements of the future. This often is not the case in most African countries.

Luckily today in Africa, through the work of AVCA and other global and regional industry associations, private equity is increasingly recognised as an asset class and to which pension and asset managers are permitted to allocate funds.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Africa’s private equity industry, and what trends do you expect to see in deal-making and exits going forward?

Africa’s private equity industry did not escape the challenges of COVID-19. The uncertainty of the long-term implications of COVID-19 led many investors and fund managers to pause on the execution of planned transactions. The economic downturn that ensued understandably led many investors in the midst of executing transactions to reassess commercial terms, valuations, and rationales of those transactions. With demand for the continent’s commodities such as oil and gas cratering, earnings and exchange rates imploded.

One area less impacted during COVID-19 was venture capital investments, though this varied from sector to sector. Try raising money for a new airline during COVID-19, when nearly the entire global passenger airlines’ fleet was grounded and carriers were going out of business, as one of my clients was seeking to do!

Happily, like the rest of the world, African private equity has experienced a rebound in 2021, with strong deal flow both in new investments and exits. Earn-outs and additional consideration payments are currently common on deals as a consequence of disappointing 2020 financial performance, but dealmakers have faith in the ultimate fundamentals of the relevant businesses. And Green Africa Airways has raised finance, secured aircraft, obtained its aviation licence and is the latest low-cost carrier servicing the African market.

How has AVCA been of value to Norton Rose Fulbright?

AVCA has been of incredible value to the development of the African private equity and venture capital asset class as a whole, and stakeholders such as Norton Rose Fulbright have benefitted hugely from that value. Ten years ago, the head of the pension commission for an African country described private equity to me as a black box, indicating the commission’s unwillingness to permit the pension contributions of employees of his country to be committed to private equity. The commissioner saw his role as the preservation of the pension contributions of his fellow countrymen, notwithstanding inflation running at double-digit and eroding the value of said contributions in real terms. Luckily today in Africa, through the work of AVCA and other global and regional industry associations, private equity is increasingly recognised as an asset class and to which pension and asset managers are permitted to allocate funds.



Our vision is to promote a prosperous Africa that is sustainable, inclusive, and innovative, by championing private investment into the continent.

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Our vision is to promote a prosperous Africa that is sustainable, inclusive, and innovative, by championing private investment into the continent.