OF SYNERGIES AND OPPORTUNITIES

What could a purpose-driven approach to partnership mean for mega-projects in Africa?

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As Africa’s economic growth trajectory continues upward – defying the current global trend – its critical need for infrastructure development mirrors this path. With the private sector being called to answer this need, our concept of “successful public private partnership” needs to be reconsidered and a far more long-term and legacy view of return on investment taken. This will require a fundamental shift in our thinking and approach however, and for us to ultimately unite as Africans in order to build Africa...

Africa’s dream of sustained growth is not new – or arguably unique. It is one which generations of peoples and communities before ours have striven to achieve. Most recently it has been articulated and framed by the African Union’s vision for 2063, notably of the “Africa we want: an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”.

In considering what this means in the context of the construction industry as an enabler, it’s important to note why this vision was created: as an approach to guide “how the continent should effectively learn from the lessons of the past, build on the progress now underway and strategically exploit all possible opportunities available in the immediate and medium term, so as to ensure positive socioeconomic transformation within the next 50 years”.

If one unpacks the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in detail, we additionally find a clear role for our industry relating to many of the continent’s strategic aspirations, perhaps best expressed in the following: “By 2063 the necessary infrastructure will be in place to support Africa’s accelerated integration and growth, technological transformation, trade and development. This will include high-speed railway networks, roads, shipping lines, sea and air transport, as well as a well-developed ICT and digital economy.”

Delivering on the above will not only require the successful rollout of a series of mega-projects well into the future but, additionally, a sustainable supply of concrete that enables this development. As such, our sector is being tasked with a clear call to action given that concrete is an essential foundation and building block for strong, reliable and durable infrastructure.

Linked to the use of concrete for these projects is the fact that, as an infrastructure building material, it performs exceptionally across all aspects of sustainability – economic, social and environmental. (Studies of economic and whole-of-life environmental analyses of a range of building applications reiterate that concrete performs impressively against these key measures of sustainability.) Without concrete then, it will be difficult to provide Africa’s current and future large cities with the cost-effective, efficient, long-lasting and low maintenance infrastructure they need.

That being said, concrete in itself is not enough. The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) categorises mega-projects of the likes needed to deliver on Vision 2063 as having “extreme complexity” (both in technical and human terms) and “a long record of poor delivery” – bringing us back to the concept of partnership.

In Africa’s case, we clearly require a new approach – both in terms of how we do business individually and how we develop partnerships. For our sector to catalyse meaningful change and enable growth and development, we need to collectively redefine our definition of “best practice” partnership and innovate such that it becomes “next practice” – or purpose-driven.

The starting point for this arguably needs to be expanding our often single-minded delivery-focused approach to completing a project or JV to now encompass everything from innovation and modernisation, to strategic collaboration, empowerment and transformation, skills development and training, to adopting green business practices wherever possible. Active and demonstrable leadership must additionally be displayed throughout, with sustainability becoming common practice.

Our view of “stakeholders” also needs to change: looking beyond government and investors only to engage with key communities including women and youth as a priority.  “Investment” needs to similarly be redefined to include people; both current and future employees. This is something we’ve learnt through our own engagements on the continent, taking an inclusive approach to “sustainable modernisation”. In the case of our CIMERWA plant in Rwanda for example, key stakeholders are the Rwandan government, the Bank of Kigali, KCB Bank of Rwanda, the Eastern and Southern African Trade Development Bank, the local community, and up and downstream partners (such as logistics providers) – all of which have been included in the greater value chain.

Critical milestones achieved similarly reflect a purpose-driven approach that speaks to legacy objectives. The procurement of support services including transport, catering and cleaning is being used to further capacitate and build these industries for instance. An extensive skills transfer programme is also ensuring that over 95% of the total workforce employed at the facility will be local.

In conclusion, to take the continent forward, all players have to realise that “building Africa” is as much about building the capacity to build, as building the physical assets themselves.

Purpose-driven partnerships need to become a catalyst for this approach with stakeholders working together to assist in realising a country’s economic potential whilst uplifting local communities, and stimulating greater collaboration, growth and sustainable development across the broader region.

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