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Covington Launches Africa Practice with Witney Schneidman

September 10, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2012Witney Schneidman, a former senior State Department official with more than 30 years of experience in Africa, is joining Covington & Burling, strengthening the firm’s ability to advise corporate clients on entering and expanding their presence in the African market.

Dr. Schneidman joins the firm’s Washington office as a senior international advisor for Africa. In that position, he will use his deep experience with African issues to launch a significant firm initiative to help companies capture the opportunities and navigate the risks of Africa in order to achieve their business objectives.

The Africa initiative will include a team of noted international and foreign officials such as Ambassador Jean De Ruyt, who recently joined the firm’s Brussels office after having served as the Permanent Representative of Belgium to the European Union. During his career, Ambassador De Ruyt had close dealings in central Africa, including living in the Congo and helping re-establish peace there.

The move is part of Covington’s overall strategy to provide corporate clients with expertise across the globe. Over the few past years, the firm has launched initiatives in Latin America, India and Asia, including an announcement that it plans to open new offices in Seoul and Shanghai.

“Witney’s vast expertise in Africa fills a gap in our ability to serve clients around the world,” said Timothy Hester, chair of the firm’s management committee. “He has a rich and nuanced understanding of Africa’s major countries and regional markets as well as unique insight into the recurring challenges and opportunities across the continent.”

Many companies see significant opportunities to develop their business in Africa, due to the abundant natural resources, high growth rates, strong economic management, and expanding middle class, Mr. Hester said.

A former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Dr. Schneidman focuses his work on U.S.-African relations, trade and investment in Sub-Saharan Africa, and issues related to economic growth and regional integration on the continent.

“I am very excited by this unique and significant opportunity to help one of the leading law firms in the United States establish a practice focused on Africa,” Dr. Schneidman said. “For too long, the story of Africa has been about government corruption, war and disease. That story has changed, and companies around the world are taking notice. During the past 10 years, six of the world’s fastest-growing economies have been in sub- Saharan Africa, and the region has a middle class on par with that of India’s and China’s.”

Over the next five years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia are expected to grow at an average of 7.2 percent annually.

“Over this period, the average African economy will outpace its counterpart in Asia,” Dr. Schneidman said. “Africa is an untapped opportunity for business. It has become an important emerging market and, compared with other regions, it has one of the highest rate of return on investments.”

While at the State Department, Dr. Schneidman played a key role in ensuring the passage and implementation of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, and the establishment of the U.S.-SADC Forum, the U.S.-Angola Bilateral Consultative Commission, and the U.S.-Nigeria Joint Economic Partnership Committee. After he left the State Department, he founded a consulting firm that has assisted a range of U.S. and international companies in a variety of sectors, such as health, energy, mining, and financial services, to build market share and position in Africa.

In addition to his work at Covington, Dr. Schneidman will continue his role as a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative in the Global Economy and Development program.

Dr. Schneidman earned his doctorate degree in international relations from the University of Southern California. He has a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and a bachelor’s degree from Temple University. He has written extensively on African economic and political issues and aired his views on CBS, CNN, NPR, the BBC, and the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation, among other media outlets.

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