Uganda’s top corporate lawyers named

Tuesday March 22 2016

David Mpanga, an advocate at A.F. Mpanga

David Mpanga, an advocate at A.F. Mpanga Advocates. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA  

By Mark Keith Muhumuza

Uganda always has several mergers and acquisitions on an annual basis. This is often coupled with loan agreements worth millions of dollars. Behind these transactions are lawyers who read through hundreds of documents and draft contracts.
In 2015, five law firms in Uganda were involved in transactions valued at a conservative $204m (Shs687b). This is contained in the latest 2015 performance release of Chambers and Partners, a global law firm rankings agency.

Released onMarch 17, the top five corporate law firms in Uganda as at the end of 2015 are A.F. Mpanga Advocates, Katende, Ssempebwa and Co, MMAKS Advocates, Sebalu and Lule Advocates and Shonubi Musoke and Co. These firms have dominated Uganda’s business law for the last five years and continue to cement their reputation as the tier one firms in the country. The rankings are mostly based on the business deals the firms were involved in and the market sentiment based on client interviews. For instance, one client described Shonubi Musoke and Co advocates saying: “I am impressed by their knowledge of the power and energy landscape, and the availability of the lawyers is an indispensable attribute.”

Largest transactions
These firms represent some of the largest multinationals in Uganda, international banks and some of largest companies. During the year, the largest transaction a law firm was involved in is valued at $94m (Shs316b). This was an Islamic banking facility from Standard Chartered Bank to petroleum and liquefied gas supplier, Hapco FZE. Hapco is based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has a related company in Uganda called Hass Petroleum.

Hapco secures access crude and refined oil products for related companies in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The sourcing of refined products helps the petroleum marketing firm Hass to access affordable fuel by eliminating the middle man. Acting on behalf of Standard Chartered Bank was Shonubi Musoke & Co. The law firm also assisted the Export and Import Bank of China in the provision of $15m (Shs50.5b) loan to the government of Uganda for the expansion of Entebbe International Airport.
A.F Mpanga, Advocates was involved in two mergers and acquisitions worth a total $60m (Shs202b). Notably, in 2015 Orient Bank changed its shareholding structure after the largest shareholder at the time; Keystone Bank of Nigeria opted to sell its 80 per cent stake. That stake was acquired by 8 Miles, a private equity firm run by Bob Geldof and the bank founders. A.F Mpanga acted on behalf of the buyers of the stake in a transaction valued at $30m (Shs101b).

One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Cipla in July 2015 completed the acquisition of a 51 per cent stake in Uganda’s indigenous pharmaceutical companies, Quality Chemicals. This was a transaction valued at $30m (Shs101bn) and A.F Mpanga assisted Cipla in this acquisition. Mpanga’s clients include Citibank, Stanbic Bank, East African Development Bank, DFCU Bank and China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
Other notable transactions during the year included one in the agricultural sector. South Africa’s RCL Foods acquired a 33.5 per cent stake in Uganda’s Hudani Manji – of Yo Kuku Brands – for $4.66m (Shs15.7b). Katende, Ssempebwa & Co represented RCL foods in the transaction. Additionally, the law firm assisted PTA Bank to recover an undisclosed defaulted loan from a telecom company in Uganda.

The chasing pack
The holy grail for the law firms is beings ranked in “Band 1,” which means being the best. Chambers Global also ranks law firms in other the second category, Band 2 and third category, Band 3.
In Band 2, there are two law firms, Kampala Associated Advocates and Byenkya Kihika and Co. Advocates. The highlight in this category is Kampala Associated Advocates, which include a $1.6m (Shs5.3b) settlement in an intellectual property dispute and another contractual dispute worth $5m (Shs16.8b) in the construction sector.
Band 3 has four law firms, namely Kateera & Kagumire Advocates, Ligomarc Advocates, ENSAfrica and Kasirye Byaruhanga & Co Advocates. ENSAfrica has been placing itself at the forefront of legal advice on matters of mining in the country. Their largest transaction was, however, not in the mining sector but agribusiness. The firm worked with the World Bank’s lending arm, The International Finance Corporation (IFC) to arrange two loans to worth $8m to Pearl Diary Farms.

Top corporate lawyers
Behind a law firm being ranked as the best, there are lawyers often working in the background. The top-ranked lawyers – referred to as the senior statesmen – are three and they have dominated the scene for a while. John W Katende, Edward Katende Ssempebwa – both from Katende, Ssempebwa & Co – and Alan Shonubi, from Shonubi, Musoke are the three senior statesmen.
The second highest ranking for the lawyers is Band 1 and it is representative of the top firms in the country. Mr Philip Karugaba of MMAKS, Mr Sim Katende of Katende, Ssempebwa & Co, Mr Timothy Kanyerezi Masembe from MMAKS, Mr David FK Mpanga of A.F. Mpanga, Advocates and Mr Barnabas Tumusinguze from Sebalu & Lule Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Exported talent

There are Ugandans working out of the country with some of the best law firms. Chambers and Partners ranked four Ugandan lawyers working in Kuwait, UK, and the USA. In Kuwait, Ms Brenda Ntambirweki and Mr Ezekiel Tuma work for the best law firm in the country, ASAR - Al Ruwayeh & Partners.
Tuma is described as “a good consultant” whereas Ntambirweki is noted as bringing “significant experience and knowledge of Ugandan law to the practice” in Kuwait. The law firm had one significant debt restructuring transaction involving the Kuwait Pipe Industries and Oil Services Company (KPIOS) valued $405m (Shs1.4 trillion).
In the UK, Mr Philip Aliker of Tanfield Chambers, is ranked as a junior barrister in the General Business Law category.