Carl Mbeng on Centurion’s Central Africa strategy

Cameroon is expected to reach 3.8% economic growth in 2019, according to the World Bank making it the largest economy in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC). Centurion, with its strong brand and vibrant tri-lingual teams has two offices in the sub-region.

Over the years, through its well-trained lawyers and extensive network, Centurion Law Group has done some commendable work across the continent of Africa, including in the Central African region, which is home to one of its first major jobs – negotiating a $40 million loan in Congo, in compliance with OHADA Laws. Following the success of the 2018 elections and the inauguration of a new government, which will see a change at the head of the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Technological Development (which oversees upstream operations), it is hoped that 2019 will be a year to implement key milestones within Cameroon’s energy policy.

Carl Mbeng, Director of Centurion Law Group Cameroon, speaks on the Oil and Gas developments and the new strategy to takeover Central Africa.

What are you most passionate about as a Legal and Tax advisor?

I am most passionate about making deals work for our clients. It is fulfilling and interesting to see that you get to provide a client with legal advice that actually puts them in a better position to do business in Africa and emerge successfully.

When, and how did you join Centurion Law Group?

I joined Centurion in October 2015. Before then, I was part of the in-house legal team of Viettel Cameroon, a local telecoms company. I had read a lot about Centurion and its operations in Equatorial Guinea, I also read about the CEO NJ Ayuk and his Forbes Most Powerful Men nomination; I was impressed with what he had done. I sent a request to join his professional network on LinkedIn, which he accepted.  During one of his trips to Cameroon, NJ sent an email requesting that we meet for breakfast. I travelled over 300km by road for this meeting and during the meeting, I told him about I would like to join the firm. He requested that I send my CV to Eric Huertas who was then in charge of setting up the Cameroon Office. The emails went back and forth, Eric did the interviews and the rest is history.

What are some of your proud achievements/participations as an office?

I am hopeful that the strategies we have put in place will make me proud. With regard to the Cameroon office operations, my goal for Centurion Cameroon is to run an independent revenue generating Cameroon Office with no external funding. It is tough for a market like Cameroon where Douala alone has over 3000 law, accounting and tax advisory firms that put up a stiff competition. Following our accounting records, we have, over the past two years managed to raise about 60 percent of our overheads, which I am happy about. Regarding client transactions, we have done good work for clients across the sub region. In 2016, we negotiated a $40 million security for a loan in Congo in compliance with the OHADA Laws. This was our first major job as Centurion Cameroon, and it was an eye opener.

Tell us about Centurion Cameroon strategy for year 2019: how Cameroon become a gateway to Central Africa?

Our short-term strategy is straightforward. We seek to consolidate relationships with current retainers and rebrand ourselves to be perceived as an office with sub-regional competence – in CEMAC, OHADA and Francophone Africa – in order to get work from clients looking to enter Cameroon and other neighbouring markets. We will attain this by ensuring an active and consistent online presence with articles that discuss sub-regional challenges, rather than local issues. We have a couple of advantages on our side. First and foremost, Centurion has a strong brand. No firm within the sub-region can compare with us in that. Secondly, we are a tri-lingual firm; we have a vibrant team of well-trained lawyers who produce good work in our two offices in the sub-region and an extensive network. If we capitalise on these key points and effectively communicate our competences to prospective clients, I believe they will pick us over a very competitor anytime in any of these markets. We must consistently communicate with the Equatorial Guinea office to curb strategies that work for this sub-regional recognition.

What are the latest developments affecting Cameroon’s energy and legal industry?

Developments in the oil and gas sector have been slow but impressive. In 2018, Cameroon’s National Hydrocarbons Company, in collaboration with the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Technological Development, launched a Bid Round which didn’t do very well. As a result, the oil sector appears stale with little or no new discoveries or fields.
On the other hand, there have been significant changes in the country’s policy towards natural gas exploration and exploitation since May 2018, when the first production of LNG started from the Hilli Episeyo FLNG located offshore Cameroon. In effect, following the proven benefits of FLNG projects such as the Hili, the government has signed another important gas agreement over the Etinde field with New AGE Cameroon.

The Power sector on the other hand is also witnessing some significant improvement. It is reported that Cameroon increased energy supply by about 550MW while the installed capacity grew from 900MW to 1442MW in 2018. Also, 2018 saw the signature of milestone agreements for the development of the Natchigal Hydropower plant, which will have an installed capacity of 420MW. Other agreements were signed with Independent Power Producers for the development of medium and small sized hydropower plants.

There has not been many developments with relation to other renewable sources of energy, which have huge potential in Cameroon such as biomass, geothermal and tidal power.

Regardless, considering the recently concluded 2018 elections and the institution of a new government, which saw a change at the head of the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Technological Development – which is oversees upstream operations – it is hoped that 2019 will be a year where some of the issues which delayed the implementation of key milestones in the country’s energy policy will be addressed.

Favourite motivational quote.

My favourite motivational quote is actually a line from a Denzel Washington Speech: “The gap between goals and achievement is taken by discipline and consistency.”

Contact Carl
Email: carl.mbeng@centurionlawfirm.com
Twitter: @CarlMbeng
LinkedIn: Carl Mbeng