(August 18, 2016 / JNS) By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
In the wake of expanding East African-Israeli relations, African nations often reach out to Israel for know-how on a range of topics: water conservation, energy, agricultural productivity, counter-terrorism; and now you can add business negotiation to that list.
Although it may seem like the beginning of a tasteless joke about Jews and negotiation tactics, this work is anything but a joke. DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world, a title that comes with big responsibilities. They take pro-bono work particularly seriously and have worked on dozens of such global initiatives as a part of their “New Perimeter” program.
In one of their most recent initiatives, Jeremy Lustman, head of DLA Piper’s Israel office, was sent to Kenya to teach a course titled, “The Ins and Outs of Legalities in Special Economic Zones.” In collaboration with the East Africa Development Bank, Lustman taught a group of 40 East African government lawyers, in-house lawyers, and educational practitioners how to approach deals and negotiations with western countries. According to Lustman, it is necessary to educate on-site in special economic zones that attract foreign money, as there are many international rules, tax implications, and employment-related issues that these lawyers might not otherwise know.
“Particularly in Africa”, Lustman added, “which has a lot of underdeveloped areas, they are often receiving offers of money from companies who want to put a business there, but want to make it attractive to them.” The course was taught as a workshop so the lawyers could take what they learned back to their countries with confidence in their ability to grow and attract new businesses.
The classes and workshops included hands-on training in appreciating the other side’s interests and sensitivities. The 40 participants split up into two teams for simulated negotiations: one group representing East African lawyers, and the other group representing the Western companies wanting to make deals in Africa. They explored various topics that would come up in real-life future negotiations, explained Lustman. “It was a lot of analyzing how the two sides come together: what does the Western company want from Africa and what does Africa want from the Western company? How much money will it cost? How will you split up who is going to pay what? How do you create a joint venture? How do you deal with media issues? How do you market in Africa with 500 different dialects?” The list of topics continued, and the nine to 10 hour-per-day workshop kept the lawyers busy for five days.
This project comes at a time of expanding development and relations between East African countries and Israel, especially following Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to East Africa last month. With boundless new opportunities in East African infrastructure, Israeli companies are continuing to look to do business with Africa. Just two years ago, Israeli entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz led his company Gigawatt Global in a $23 million energy project in Rwanda. This project, which represented East Africa’s first commercial-scale solar field, provided seed money and strategic guidance to Rwanda, as well as an 8.5 megawatt solar power plant. “The opportunity is great, and geographically, Israel and East Africa are close, [the two countries by airplane are] three or four hours away,” said Lustman. He also noted that, “this is a time where we see East Africa really opening up to the West, and East African lawyers need that training. Israel has become one of the prime examples of Western companies that are doing business internationally, and Israel is a phenomenal exporter of technology and innovation.”
The East African response has been largely positive. “There are many Christians in East Africa, and they look at Israel as the Holy Land and the home of religion. They see Jews as connected to God and they love Israel. East Africa is also home to Ethiopia, the land of the lost Jewish tribe in Africa. There is mutual admiration,” Lustman said.
In the end, Lustman said he learned from the East African lawyers and hopes they learned from his extensive knowledge of global markets, legal expertise, and business experience. After a long week, Lustman returned home to Israel with confidence that East Africa will continue to open to business with other Western countries and we will see more deals and mutual opportunity flow between the two regions in the near future.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.