Construction market opportunities in Africa

Ken Malcomson, director at SNA Civil & Structural Engineers

SNA Civil & Structural Engineers (Pty) Ltd is a B-BBEE accredited, multi-disciplined consulting engineering services company, with soil testing laboratories.

Established in 1955 in Pretoria, South Africa, the company has been involved in all aspects of Civil Engineering, specialising in Roads Engineering and other Infrastructure related work and all the sub-divisions thereof, which includes bridges and other related structures.

The company has been practising for more than 55 years and has undertaken projects for almost all the State Road Authorities in South Africa as well as for various local authorities and other large private bodies.  The company has branches at Pietermaritzburg and Richard’s Bay – Kwazulu Natal, Cape Town – Western Cape Province, Bloemfontein – Free State, Nelspruit- Mpumalanga and Polokwane in Limpopo.

Ken Malcomson, director at SNA Civil & Structural Engineers, a South African company specialized in civil engineering, has this to say about the African construction market:

The African construction market has been driven by the strong commodity cycle over the last ten years. Numerous infrastructure projects rose in order to facilitate exportation. Recently, an economic slowdown in the construction market was observed, due to the recent decline of commodity prices. However, Africa has an abundance of oil and minerals and will benefit from demand when the world economy recovers and therefore the potential growth rate in market opportunities is high.

More generally, growth in the construction industries can be explained by the need to provide infrastructure to service Africa’s growing population and the need for the developed world to gain a better rate of return on their investments than that available in the developed economies.

The state of infrastructure in Africa is generally poor as little attention is given to maintaining the existing infrastructure. It appears easier to secure funds for new projects resulting in infrastructure being left to decay into a state where it must be rebuilt rather than maintained. It needs sustained investment to both maintain and expand the infrastructure in order to meet the countries needs.

Looking at Mega projects in Africa as an example of the huge investment required in Africa is The new Nacala rail line in Mozambique, for Vale mining to facilitate the export of coal, and the two power stations currently under construction in South Africa. Both projects once finished should have a great impact on their respective regions.

The major challenge of the African construction market today is clearly the mastering of the growing demand of infrastructure. It can only be met with a combination of the education and training of local people and the importation of skills from other countries (inside and outside Africa).

The challenge of rapid growth without the required levels of competence in design and construction will lead to an increased probability of failures. These failures can result in considerable loss of life such as the recent collapse of a church building in Kenya which resulted in several deaths.

My advice for someone starting a construction project in Africa is before starting a project, construction companies should consider the level of training and expertise available in the country and take this into account when deciding on their construction methodology. The inability of clients to organize payment for both consulting services and construction work is a major stumbling block/risk to the successful implementation and completion of projects.  Maybe we require some engineers in the client’s finance department to facilitate the smooth operation of this function?

They should also know how to use the latest technology available providing suitably trained personnel employed to carry out the construction/installation, and all materials should be tested to ensure they comply with the required specifications.