African governments eye corporate consultants to boost economy and security

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The logo of consulting firm McKinsey + Company is seen at an office building in Zurich, Switzerland. Photo by: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

Despite an abundance of foreign aid and robust institution-building support from the international community and the United Nations (UN), the African development remains hampered by military conflict, economic insecurity, and political instability. Although there are encouraging instances of progress, persisting issues have perpetuated cycles of violence and stagnation. In already volatile regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa or the Horn of Africa, this destabilising cycle has repeatedly pushed governments up to and past the point of state failure.  

As instability mounts, African governments are increasingly turning to top-level corporate and management consultancy firms for reform guidance and policy implementation advice. With consultancy demand spiking, industry heavyweights like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) have been joined by an assortment of lesser-known consulting outfits, including highly specialised firms like the Lancaster 6 Group headed by Christiaan Durrant. Unlike the rest of the world where consultancies focus on the private sector, consultancy firms in Africa are involved in the formulation and implementation of good governance policies, whether it’s catalysing sustainable economic growth or improving legal and institutional capacity.  

In a comprehensive effort to combat the difficulties many regional governments face in developing their economies, consultancy firms have embedded specialist consultants across the continent. McKinsey & Company, the so-called grandfather of management consulting, currently maintains offices in Luanda, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Casablanca, Lagos, and Johannesburg. Depending on local needs and conditions, these offices can advise on different sectors of public policy, including healthcare, economic development, and national security.

By maintaining an active presence on the ground in Africa, consulting offices are better equipped to provide valuable policy and strategy insights, from optimising economic regulations to helping kick-start reform projects. For example, one of the flagship programs of BCG in Africa is the advancement of financial services and the restructuring of the private equity sector, particularly in the surging markets of South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. Under the umbrella of this program, BCG has pursued a broad policy of financial inclusion, fostering renewed public-private sector collaboration and advising governments on a wide range of new target market profiles that are ripe for foreign direct investment. Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, McKinsey’s Addis Ababa office recently oversaw the comprehensive transformation of the country’s tax system, streamlining tax administration processes and revamping compliance procedures. Thanks to McKinsey’s tax transformation project, Ethiopia has been able to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue.  

Nevertheless, not everyone is convinced that big consultancy firms like McKinsey are the answer to Africa’s many problems. In fact, McKinsey is still embroiled in the long-term process of repairing its local reputation after attracting a tidal wave of bad press for its involvement in a multi-million dollar fraud case in South Africa. Even as McKinsey pledges to “earn back the trust we have lost,” more niche and more nimble firms are already rushing to fill the consultancy and advisement void created in South Africa.

Among this group of companies is Lancaster 6, a niche consultancy firm specialising in providing strategic guidance to create and implement government policy and political strategy. Headed by former Royal Australian Airforce pilot, Christiaan Durrant, the firm works to addresses better governance and stronger economies; two outcomes which Lancaster 6 believes will lead to greater stability and higher quality of life across the continent. It has already consulted to the government of Mozambique to help establish good governance directives – countries often ignored by bigger consultancy practices.  

Perhaps learning from the prior mistakes of its larger corporate counterparts, Lancaster 6 invests heavily to ensure full legality and compliance across all streams of its work, wherever it may operate. The firm has retained a legal compliance team headed by Vince Gordon, a leading partner at Holman Fenwick Willan.

Yet despite its expanding business operations and tight compliance regimes, Lancaster 6 has come under fire in recent months, with claims that the consultancy company’s activities are in violation of local and international laws. The bulk of these accusations can be traced back to a series of unverified reports falsely stating that Erik Prince, a high-profile security contractor manages Lancaster 6. In addition to nitpicking hazy and decontextualised facts, these reports have used highly emotive language to weaponise loose business associations, painting a disingenuous picture linking the Lancaster 6 Group to the arms trade or private armies. On the contrary, Lancaster 6 is abiding by all legal standards, at both the national and international level. Like many private consultancy firms in Africa, Lancaster 6 routinely provides state-level advisement and support for destitute and/or conflict-torn nations.

Indeed claims that Lancaster 6 has breached legal duties in Africa, particularly Libya, – something Durrant emphatically denies. “There have been allegations towards myself & Lancaster 6 of being involved in sanctions-busting activities in Libya. These allegations are completely untrue. All of our work in Libya was completely within the bounds of the law and we take legal compliance with the utmost seriousness,” he said in a recent interview.

While it has become fashionable to bad mouth multinational firms and critique the efforts of private consultancies in developing economies, the role of these companies remains crucial. Private consultancy groups, especially highly refined companies like Lancaster 6, BCG and McKinsey offer a practical alternative to bloated supranational institutions like the UN. In the context of state-level governance, an over-reliance on the UN (and its affiliates) can promote ineffective policymaking and bureaucracy. By leveraging the expertise of private consultancy firms, African governments will be well-positioned to reform public-finance systems, break the donor-aid model, eliminate spending efficiencies, and catalyse lasting independent economic growth.

*Farhad is a Paris-based political analyst specialised in Middle East affairs, specifically intra-Arab relations and conflict resolution. He works with various research institutions and consults on matters related to security and finance in the Middle East.