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Even though the nation remains one of the poorest in the world, Ethiopia’s government has successfully opened up the country to foreign investment. This has led to significant growth in agriculture, manufacturing and other industries. GDP growth hovered around 10% in 2013, 2014 and 2015 before dipping to 7.6% in 2016. Ethiopia’s economy is performing admirably with a higher rate of foreign direct investment (FDI) than most other African nations.

The jurisdiction’s legal market continues to develop in sophistication, although local rules designate that firms are essentially sole proprietorships. Senior practitioners will often work alongside a firm’s founder and named partner, but will not hold an equity stake in the business. In early 2017, senior and renowned lawyer Teshome Gabre-Mariam Bokan died, leading to the demise of his firm Teshome Gabre-Mariam Bokan Law Office. This illustrates the under-developed nature of the legal industry in the jurisdiction. Even so, given the amount of cross-border activity in the region, Ethiopia remains in the sights of the international legal profession. This is exemplified by Italian firm BonelliErede, which launched an Addis Ababa office in 2016.

Mehrteab Leul & Associates has continued to expand its team in Addis Ababa to 16 lawyers. The firm benefits from its local and international reputation and membership of the DLA Piper Africa Group. It is praised for its ‘very high level of service’, ‘professionalism’ that is comparable to firms in Europe and, according to one client, it is ‘without doubt the best in Ethiopia’. The firm has experienced significant growth in FDI and M&A. It advises a large number of foreign multinationals that invest in or have assets in Ethiopia, including those in the agriculture and manufacturing industries. Mining and energy are also growth sectors for the firm. It is working with several renewable energy businesses in connection with the government’s programme to develop independent power producer (IPP) projects in the wind and solar energy sectors. It was also recently engaged to advise a global IPP venture on its bid for a 100MW solar IPP project to be developed by Ethiopian Electric Power. In addition it has advised Exim Bank of China on the validity and enforceability of a loan agreement with the Ethiopian government that relates to a significant road project in the jurisdiction. The firm recently represented Netafim on a potential tax dispute involving VAT chargeable on a drip irrigation project with Ethiopian Sugar. The firm also maintains a substantial IP practice, acting for a wide range of clients on trade mark registration and IP litigation. Patent work and technology transfer issues are also key elements of the practice and it frequently works alongside South African IP giant Spoor & Fisher. Clients include Ontex Hygienic Disposables, Tuhana Consulting, Wadi Degla Holdings, Avery Dennison, Blue Grey Minerals, and Verdant Frontiers. Founder and principal of the firm Mehrteab Leul, who is a prominent name in corporate, investment and tax issues, and Benyam Tafesse, head of the firm’s IP, employment and immigration practices, are regarded as ‘always responsive, knowledgeable and true team players’. Taddesse Lencho is a leader in corporate and tax matters, while Zelalem Yibrah heads the mining and energy practice.

Mesfin Tafesse Law Office has established itself at the forefront of Ethiopia’s legal sector. It is has been especially prominent in the power sector, advising both government and private sector entities. The firm advised Enel Green Power on the 100MW Metehara Solar PV project. It also represented International Finance Corporation as the transactional adviser to Ethiopian Electric Power on its Scaling Solar project to generate up to 500MW of electric power. Moreover, it has shown its leadership in the development of PPPs in Ethiopia and worked alongside a number of leading international firms on the development of IPP projects in the jurisdiction. The firm also remains active in the mining sector and advised on a significant LNG project. The firm assisted Amsterdam-based Veris Investments on the corporate structuring of investments in Ethiopia and the company’s potential acquisition of a manufacturing business in the jurisdiction. The firm is also a member of the Africa Legal Network and has good connections to international firms around the world. Mesfin Tafesse is a highly acclaimed practitioner in Ethiopia, particularly in power and mining, and is supported by consultants Wossenyeleh Tigu, Solomon Zewdie and Mekdes Mezgebu.

Tadesse Kiros Law Office is recognised for its prominent standing in M&A, finance, mining and energy. It is actively involved in the government’s IPP programme, advising a number of renewable energy companies. The firm is also recognised for IP work. Tadesse Kiros, a former Deputy Chief Justice of Ethiopia, is a ‘seasoned lawyer’ with an ‘extensive legal practice’ who is ‘actively working to grow his practice and build his team’.

Fikadu Asfaw and Associates Law Office is led by senior partner Ato Fikadu Asfaw Demissie, who is an increasingly prominent name in corporate and commercial, finance and real estate work. The firm is internationally well connected and is recognised for its advice to European and Asian clients. Tax and IP are also key practice areas.

Tamrat Assefa Liban Law Office is an emerging name in Ethiopia, noted for its expertise in IP and corporate transactions. The firm is also recognised for natural resources and mining matters and has a solid name in energy programmes, particularly in geothermal energy projects. Tamrat Assefa Liban has substantial experience in cross-border investment and finance work, including in the real estate and renewable energy sectors.

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