Robert Redford & Meryl Streep brought us ‘Out of Africa’. Valencian lawyers Marta López-Pena and Raquel Serón are taking Spanish business into Africa.
Marta and raquel are two Valencia lawyers who are showing the same grit and determination as Meryl Streep when it comes to finding a place in male-dominated Africa.
L&S is Valencian lawyers Marta López-Pena and Raquel Serón, graduates from Valencia Law Faculty (Raquel also taught there for four years) and with years of experience at top firms.
Merging their talents and their vision of Africa as being the emerging continent of the 21st century, they are now the proud owners of the only Spanish law firm in Equatorial Guinea, where they collaborate with one of the few female African lawyers in a society ruled by men.
The approach of their firm grew out of the perception that while internationalization was a fashionable word, professionals often spoke of countries they had never travelled to, and of remote assistance through offices they had not visited, and yet offered intermediation services at high commission rates.
Their first step therefore on founding L&S was to travel and to develop their contacts, creating collaborations rather than exploitations. As well as Africa, they travelled to Brazil and China, as a result of which they now have prospering collaborations on the ground to assist and counsel companies who wish to break into the markets there.
Although they only opened their office in Calle Corona in March 2012, already companies in the construction, furniture, foodstuffs, water and wine businesses have benefitted from expert assistance from Spanish lawyers who have actually validated their law degrees so as to be able to practice in Equatorial Guinea, to where they travel monthly, and from where lawyers are brought back to Valencia for training.
Being on site is the key to their remarkable success, and understanding that the African mentality is such that they are unhappy working with people who they feel they don’t know, or who come with attitudes of superiority. What is needed generally is a lot of patience and determination; although as Alexandre Dumas said: “all generalizations are dangerous, even this one”.
Equatorial Guinea is a small country with only 700,000 inhabitants. Africa itself consists of 54 countries with 2,000 languages and no two areas are the same.
Bob Geldorf showed us the face of hungry Africa, but Raquel and Marta have witnessed that there is also an Africa rich in resources, with a fast growing middle class, stable democratic governments and major cities.
Many people when they actually go there, or see a photo, are surprised to confirm the existence of the most modern buildings and installations in the ‘dark continent’, among them the stadiums for the Africa Cup designed by Spanish firm BCN Arquitectura, and from Valencia Viveros Dalmau, who took care of the pitches.
As in so many parts of Africa, Spanish and other Europeans firms have to compete with the ever present Chinese companies, who play on an uneven playing field. The Chinese government has granted a credit line to some African governments, paid back by the governmental protection and encouragement of Chinese investments in their countries.
Because of the confidence they have built up in Equatorial Guinea, L&S have also been approached by local organisations seeking their help with international matters, such as the national football team, who turned to L&S when sanctioned by the FIFA.
The ties between Spain and its old colony are still strong; in fact Spain imports a lot of its gas from there. And like the Spain of the past, and occasionally the present, bureaucracy is quixotic.
In English we use the expression ‘red tape’ as a synonym for bureaucracy, because lawyers used to employ red tape to bind their briefs. Today it needs very well informed lawyers to untie all the red tape and to let companies know whether or not they are really making progress in their African adventure, or whether like Robert Redford, they are heading for a bumpy landing.
Weaned on the sweet, laconic milk of European Union internal trading, many companies are unprepared for the more complicated world outside the EU. With its team of eight lawyers, L&S cannot guarantee the success of Spanish companies attempting to go into Africa, and especially into central Africa’s EU, the CEMAC, but they can ensure that you are talking to the right person in the right place and with the right work permits, visas, customs documents, licensing agreements, bank accounts, tax information and even currency.
In March 2012, Raquel and Marta organised the 1st Forum on Establishing Companies Abroad, attended by lawyers from countries such as Ivory Coast, Senegal, China, Brazil and Spain, sharing their first-hand experiences about the situation and business opportunities in those countries. On 14th June 2013 they organised a further conference, bringing Africa closer to Valencia.