The embodiment of local excellence

Elite local advice is crucial for African oil and gas projects, say energy law experts Shakwa Nyambe and Shafimana Shimakeleni, who discussed this need with Craig Sisterson.

It’s vital for multinational oil companies operating in African nations like Namibia to work with specialised local firms who deeply understand the energy sector if they want to properly navigate legal, business and regulatory issues, says Shakwa Nyambe, managing director of leading energy law firm SNC Incorporated.

Relying heavily on international firms or lawyers without specialised expertise, who don’t understand the nuances of local laws, labour issues, customs and tax, stakeholder relationships, and how to deal with certain regulators, will hamper progression in oil and gas projects, he explained. “It can cost companies a lot of money, so it’s important they work with specialised energy lawyers who are in the country and who understand how to handle all these issues.”

Announcements earlier this year that both Shell and TotalEnergies have made significant oil and gas discoveries offshore of Namibia, underline the importance of expert local advice.

“We have lawyers who are specialised in the energy sector, who worked at the Namibian national oil company and the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Namibia, and who are well educated to a specialised higher level in the UK,” said Nyambe. “These are the lawyers who understand the issues of the energy sector in the country, as well as the local legal and fiscal requirements which are applicable. You can only manoeuvre through all these issues with ease if you have specialised energy lawyers and, more importantly, those who operate in the country where you have projects.”

A few years into its existence, SNC Incorporated has become a formidable law firm in the region, and has been listed, alongside firms operating for decades, on the IFLR 1000 as a notable law firm in areas of financial and corporate law. The Windhoek-based firm was a finalist for the 2022 African Legal Awards in the category “African Law Firm of the Year – Small Practice”.

“Our offering is differentiated by its comprehensiveness and competitiveness in the current market,” explained Shafimana Shimakeleni, a senior associate at SNC Incorporated. Like many colleagues, he has earned a Master of Laws in Oil and Gas Law and worked in-house at key public bodies in the energy sector. “We advise national and international oil companies, service companies, mining companies, energy companies and independent petroleum companies on various matters ranging from mergers and acquisitions, commercial transactions and corporate governance, to project financing, drafting and interpretation of contracts, and dispute resolution. We have expertise in the entire oil and gas value chain.”

Beyond navigating the maze of corporate, labour, tax, environmental and other such matters for energy companies operating in Africa, top local lawyers who’ve been involved since the early stages of the projects are vital if or when disputes arise, noted Nyambe. One example of this was when SNC Incorporated secured a landmark judgement for a client in July 2022, enabling the company to continue its oil and gas exploration in Namibia.

“We don’t only give clients support on the contractual aspects, we continue with the support when there are dispute resolution matters which require court litigation or arbitration,” he emphasised. “These are legal services which some international law firms cannot provide because their lawyers may not be licensed to appear in local courts or local arbitration tribunals. It is best for local lawyers to work with the companies undertaking projects in Africa from inception, and not just to be enlisted when they have issues, because then the lawyers may not have a full grasp of their project.”

This article was written by Craig Sisterson and published by Africa Legal, a legal media platform.

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