AfricaLive: With all the trade-related changes taking place in the continent as well as the pandemic, do you believe this is the right time for Ghanaian leaders to step up trade barrier discussions?
David Ofusu Dorte: Yes, because I am a crusader of bridging the gap between politics and business. The pandemic offers us a chance to reset and refocus our efforts. This is the time to prepare not to despair. The continent offers tremendous prospects for development and business over the next decade and we must be ready to rise to the occasion.
AfricaLive: What was your motivation for starting AB & David, and what is your main philosophy at the firm?
David Ofusu Dorte: Our main motivation was to set up a legal practice that focuses mostly on commercial issues and not just legalise. In this part of the world at the time, the focus was more to legalise, so we wanted to differentiate ourselves by focusing on the needs of the client first. It was also fashionable back in those days to have a generalist practice.
We have evolved over the years from a generalist practice to a specialized one. Today, we have evolved further into a Pan-Africanist law firm. Ours is a one-continent law firm that is no longer limited to one jurisdiction. Our Pan-Africanist approach and drive to cross borders is our philosophy at this point of our development.
AfricaLive: The Africa Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is upon us. Do you believe African businesses are ready to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with the agreement?
David Ofusu Dorte: The AfCFTA is a part of the bigger agenda which is Agenda 2063. The agreement is a decent attempt to bring together an African economy worth over $3 trillion and about 1.3 billion people. The impact on Ghana will be enormous especially with the secretariat being in the country.
The AFCFTA Year Zero Report grouped countries into categories regarding their readiness to take advantage and to commit to the agreement. The report shows that Ghana makes the top ten when it comes to commitment though we didn’t rank that high in readiness.
Aside from countries, private firms have been preparing to position themselves favourably. We have had extensive engagements with many firms that have been consulting us. We get a lot of enquiries because we run an extensive Africa-wide practice that advises clients on how to take advantage of AFCFTA.
It’s also worth mentioning that I was involved in the Authorship of “The Trillion-dollar Framework” based on the AFCFTA. We lobbied a lot of African Union top officials to adopt the document and make it part of the framework that informs our continental investment framework.
I am very bullish on the potential of the AFCFTA and I have bought into it completely.
AfricaLive: What are some of the strategic goals you have set with your partners that you wish to accomplish medium to long term?
David Ofusu Dorte: In the short term, we have to look to take advantage of what is happening. In the medium term, we have a strategic plan that we have been working on since 2018 that seeks to position us as the go-to law firm regarding doing business on the continent. We have worked to beat the cliché saying by many law firms that states “we go where the client is going”. We have put in the work to ensure we go ahead of the client. Our clients will have the pleasant surprise of meeting us exactly where they want to go. We also have a great amount of data to provide to the client on matters regarding doing business in Africa. Our clients will also receive extensive legal advice backing that will enable them to navigate the African business terrain with ease.
In the long-term, we look to penetrate into more countries on the continent. We have five offices in different African countries with a network of 24 affiliates all over the continent. Our firm can, therefore, access clients directly or through our affiliates. We hope to grow our presence to about 35 African countries in the long term.
AfricaLive: What are some of the challenges you observe on the continent when it comes to forming private-public partnerships and what role do you or will you play in bridging the gap?
David Ofusu Dorte: The problems in the continent are many and it doesn’t help us to dwell on them, we would rather look for the opportunities they present. Solving our problems involves looking at things like access to finance, cost of capital and utilities, cross border barriers, value addition of our commodities and many other issues. We look at private-public partnerships as forces that can move the needle when it comes to all these issues. Our role is to help governments achieve reform so that it becomes easy for private players to come in and help make a positive impact.
In our quest to solve our problems, we must acknowledge that Africa is dominated by SMEs. If we want to tame unemployment, which is a major problem, we must incorporate SMEs into the value chain. We can’t bring SMEs into the value chain without a plan to upgrade them though. Multinationals may find it difficult to work with SMEs that are lacking in quality and may end up ignoring them or leaving altogether. Too many SMEs want to upscale but not enough want to upgrade. Upgrading always trumps upscaling in any value chain and that must be our focus.
Public-private partnerships are a great solution for infrastructure challenges on the continent. Aside from infrastructure, the digital space offers opportunities for public-private engagements. The digital space is so big for Africa because it presents the quickest solution to integrating the continent as we build physical infrastructure.
AfricaLive: A lot of our work involves de-risking Africa in the eyes of international investors. What can be done to help de-risk the continent and make it an attractive investment destination?
David Ofusu Dorte: Much of it is a perception problem that can be overcome once more information is put out there. I was in attendance at the Africa-UK summit where our president addressed the issue of Africa’s high-risk premium. The risk premium has always been about issues of wars, dictatorship and government interference. There is an unspoken failure by most political, business and risk assessors to acknowledge that Africa has changed so much over the past three decades.
There hasn’t been a coup in this country since 1981 for instance. We have also had peaceful power transitions since 1992 which proves that we are on the right path. I do admit that there are some challenges with regard to government involvement in the business environment.
I am also concerned though that there seems to be a shifting of goal posts when it comes to risk so that Africa can remain riskier than it really is in the eyes of investors. Financial bodies like Afrexim Bank and others can be instrumental in helping people to reshape perceptions about Africa. I believe that with time, Africa will begin to look different in the minds of many internationally.
AfricaLive: De-risking Africa in the minds of international investors is important and so is the need for a local content policy. How can a balance between local content policy and international investment be achieved?
David Ofusu Dorte: Local content policies are designed to help natives achieve a certain level of ownership of their economy. We have to take into account that Africa is dominated by SMEs and tiny small business setups. Our ‘Trillion-Dollar Framework’ recognizes these businesses and seeks to bring them aboard the value chain.
You can’t just bring them into the value chain because a policy says so. Those small businesses must provide the value needed or else people will go around local content policies. Our governments must help SMEs upgrade so that they catch on to the value needed for them to win. Upgrading is different from upscaling which is what we tend to focus on the most.
Real growth comes from upgrading and not just upscaling because upgrading is about quality. Upgraded local companies will become local champions that can meet and beat any international standard. At the moment, our focus seems to be leaning on bringing in foreign investment without marrying it into the local SME framework.
AfricaLive: As we look into the future, what is your confidence level in Ghana as a country?
David Ofusu Dorte: I am highly confident about our prospects as a country. We want to be part of the African transformation story and we are very bullish about our continent.