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Competition law in Africa comes of age

Competition law in Africa comes of age

28th February 2014

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Competition legislation dealing with merger control and restrictive practices is rolling out across Africa almost as fast as investment is pouring in.  The increased focus on competition law on the continent has resulted in a challenging regulatory regime for investors to navigate.

Jean Meijer, partner at pan-African law firm Bowman Gilfillan and co-head of the firm's competition practice, said that in Africa there tended to be a greater focus on economic sectors that prioritise the poor – compared with developed economies where current competition issues are more concerned with technology, for example.

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Bowman Gilfillan is hosting its third Africa Competition Law Seminar in Johannesburg on 6 March and Meijer says there’s been a strong response.

“We’re bringing together competition authorities and legal counsel from various African countries to understand how competition laws are developing across the continent - so that we can better manage the risks of doing business in Africa.”

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A key development, she added, was the coming into operation in January last year of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission. 

The Commission is intended to be a one-stop-shop for merger notifications in the common market comprising 19 African states. However, not all of the member states have accepted that this is the case.

Eleven mergers were notified to the Commission last year with a further three notified by 21 January this year.

Meijer said that despite some concerns around legitimacy, COMESA is well positioned to facilitate investment in Africa through streamlining the merger process.

In many African countries, the focus is still on merger control, or preventing market concentrations that put firms in a position to increase prices, rather than on restrictive practices.

“South Africa is a relatively mature jurisdiction. The leniency policy has lead to the exposure of cartels in numerous sectors, including the widespread construction cartel. A new challenge that we face is the so-called follow-on actions, with the South African courts recently having recognised class actions for private damages claims.  Other jurisdictions are at different stages of maturity, facing different issues,” said Meijer.

The Bowman Gilfillan Africa Competition Law Seminar will address the latest developments in competition law in countries such as Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, the obstacles to merger clearance, what conduct and practices are prohibited, and how regulators enforce the law.

Included amongst the high profile speakers are David Lewis, Executive Director, Corruption Watch and Former Chairperson of the South African Competition Tribunal, Emmah Gwatinetsa, Legal Advisor and Commission Secretary, Competition & Tariff Commission of Zimbabwe, Francis Wang’ombe Kariuki, Director-General of the Competition Authority of Kenya, and George Lipimile, CEO of COMESA Competition Commission.

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