NAVIGATING THE CONSTRUCTION LANDSCAPE IN AFRICA

07 May 2024
Written by Armand du Toit & Martin Maziya
Written by Armand du Toit & Martin Maziya

Introduction

The African continent stands at the crossroad of unprecedented economic growth and development, with its construction industry emerging as a pivotal driving force for transformative change. A corner stone for the profound transformation in consulting practices across the continent if you will.

This blog aims to serve as a guiding compass for those venturing into the construction realm in Africa, offering insights into the factors driving the African construction landscape, challenges faced by international firms and effective market entry strategies with a focus on the importance of sustainable and inclusive development.

Embarking on construction projects in Africa requires a nuanced approach that recognizes the continent’s unique blend of challenges and opportunities. International players can gain valuable insights to not only navigate the challenges of the African construction landscape but also contribute meaningfully to the continent’s ongoing development story.

Driving factors behind the booming African construction industry.

According to the African Development Bank the African economy is expected to grow by 4.1% in 2023-2024 and projected to increase significantly during the next three decades. The economic recovery pace of Africa was dampened by factors such as hostile global financial conditions, higher than expected inflation as well as supply chain disarray caused by the prolonged war on Ukraine (African Development Bank, 2023).

Growth and Urbanization:

However, the construction industry in Africa has experienced significant growth, driven in part by rapid urbanization and population growth. The past three decades, 28 countries have doubled their population with another 26 countries projected to double their population during the forthcoming three decades. In the year 1900, the African population stood at roughly 140 million and since then the number have increased 10-fold, with a staggering 1.4 billion in 2023 due to falling mortality rates and high birth rates. With a demographic shift, cities have become populated which calls for development in various sectors such as education, residential, commercial and health care. Cities across the continent are also witnessing a surge of infrastructure expansion to keep up with the growing demand (African Development Bank, 2023).

Figure 1 – Projected African Population Surge (International Monetary Fund, 2024).

1. Infrastructure Development:

There has been a focus on infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, airports, and energy facilities, to support economic development. The World Bank estimates that the current condition of Africa’s infrastructure constrains the economy by two percent per annum and decreases productivity by as much as forty percent in some sectors. However, to reach the projected growth of the African economy the following improvements would need to be implemented to current infrastructure by the year 2035 (Ernst & Young, 2023):

  • Electrical security would be accomplished with a production increase of 93%.
  • 50% of roads and highways would need to be paved.
  • Container handling performance needs to increase to allow 25-30 moves per hour.
  • Internet access need to be provided to more than 300 million people across the continent.

This need for improved infrastructure has attracted both domestic and international investments into the country.

2. Government Initiatives:

When implementing incentives or disincentivising certain activities, careful consideration should be given to the various impacts it could have. In some instances the consequences could have a greater cost implication than the intended benefit, as seen in the case of the Nigerian fuel subsidy termination (Ernst & Young, 2023).

Green taxonomies have been developed and implemented by South Africa to assist and ensure that private finance is streamlined whilst insuring transparency and accountability regarding renewable energy projects and sustainable development (African Development Bank, 2023). Many other African countries have also implemented comprehensive fiscal incentives that promote private finance in various sectors of which include duty and value added tax exemptions.

During 2019-2022, 495 greenfield PPPs, of which a total of 371 were related to the energy sector ($78B), across Africa were recorded in the World Bank’s PPI database, indicating a positive relationship between foreign investment and African governments (African Development Bank, 2023).

3. Energy Security:

Africa’s energy security clearly plays a pivotal role in determining the continents economic and population growth, which in return sustains the construction industry. Countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius and Morocco have introduced the duty and value added tax exemptions as mentioned to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency related investments (African Development Bank, 2023).

Following the 2023 EY Attractiveness report, Africa has attracted 733 FDI projects to total value of $ 194b which resulted in 154 000 job opportunities (Ernst & Young, 2023). Egypt was the leading country that received a total value of $ 107b in capital, whilst South Africa was the leading country in terms of total number of projects financed.  

Figure 2 – 10 Largest FDI recipients ranked by score (Ernst & Young, 2023).

Challenges Faced by International Firms in Africa

1. Tribal Heritage

Even if nationalism is growing throughout the country, tribal heritage is still apparent and plays a big part in the everyday life. The implication of tribal heritage is that people in power focus more on their direct needs, followed by the tribe that they belong to and lastly the general public in the country. Opportunities will likely be turned down if there is no substantial benefit to the individual or immediate family, regardless of the impact it could have on the surrounding communities and economy (Aremu, 2010).

2. Potential for Conflict

Conflict often occurs when people hold different ideologies or belong to different racial or cultural groups. Project leaders must learn how to prevent conflict that can be destructive by resolving conflict to facilitate people working together as well as managing conflict for the benefit of the project.  The causes of disputes are closely related to the culture of a society, and the different methods for resolving disputes are also a phenomena closely associated with a society’s unique culture (Aremu, 2010).

3. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

Africa’s cultural richness is a double-edged sword for international players. While it presents an opportunity for diverse experiences, it also brings challenges in effective communication and cultural understanding. Language barriers and differences in business customs require international firms to invest time and resources in building strong relationships with local stakeholders (Shumba, 2009).

4. Political and Economic Stability

The volatile nature of political and economic stability in certain African regions introduces an element of uncertainty for international firms. Fluctuations in governance, policy changes, and economic downturns can disrupt project timelines and increase risk. Robust risk management strategies are essential to navigate the ever-shifting sands of political and economic landscapes in Africa (Workforce Africa, 2024).

5. Regulatory Complexity

The regulatory environment in Africa is diverse and intricate, varying significantly from one country to another. International construction firms encounter the challenge of interpreting complex legal frameworks, obtaining necessary permits, and ensuring compliance with ever-evolving regulations. Careful attention to detail and adept legal navigation is imperative to avoid delays and legal pitfalls (Workforce Africa, 2024).

6. Profitability:

As clients are more willing to shop around for consulting services, they understandably hold more sway than in the past and are demanding greater value and flexibility at lower prices. In Deltek’s survey, 54% of chief operating officers said their biggest challenge caused by “changing client behaviour” was providing more value at the same cost (Consultancy UK, 2024).

Strategies for Successful Navigation

1. Build a strong reputation:

Building a strong reputation in the construction industry in Africa involves a combination of strategic actions, ethical business practices, and effective communication to consistently deliver projects of high quality. Successful project execution, within budget and on time, is one of the most effective ways to build a positive reputation including prioritizing safety and sustainability in construction practices. Demonstrating a commitment to worker safety, environmental protection, and sustainable building practices aligns with global trends that can enhance your reputation as a responsible and ethical construction company. Consequently, continue to maintain transparent communication with clients, stakeholders, and the public by clearly communicating project timelines, progress, and any challenges encountered. Transparency builds trust and helps manage expectations – especially in regions where communication is critical (Workforce Africa, 2024).

2. Invest in Local Workforce Development:

Investing in local workforce development in the construction industry in Africa is not only a responsible business practice but also a strategic move that can positively impact your projects, reputation, and long-term success. Implement apprenticeship programs that allow for aspiring construction professionals to gain practical experience under the guidance of experienced mentors. This hands-on learning approach help individuals to develop the skills needed for successful careers in the construction industry. Also prioritize hiring local talent for construction projects (Workforce Africa, 2024).

3. Establish a Local Presence:

Establishing a local presence in the construction consulting industry in Africa is a strategic move that involves more than just physical representation. It requires a thorough understanding of local dynamics, adherence to local business regulations and engagement with the community. Furthermore, it requires an understanding of the local construction regulations, licensing requirements, and construction industry standards. This may involve obtaining necessary permits and certifications to operate legally in the chosen location. A physical presence can be established by setting up a local office whether it be a branch office, regional headquarters, or project office, depending on the scale of operations within the surrounding areas. A local office demonstrates commitment to the region and facilitates direct communication with clients and stakeholders (Workforce Africa, 2024).

4. Technology Transfer and Innovation:

Technology transfer and innovation in the construction consulting industry in Africa can significantly contribute to the sector’s growth, efficiency, and sustainability. Investments in training programs to develop local talent in the use of new technologies can greatly assist companies to establish a firm foothold in a country whilst ensuring sustainable development within the community. This can involve workshops, certification programs, and collaborations with educational institutions to ensure a skilled workforce capable of leveraging innovative tools. Introduce BIM practices to enhance project visualization, collaboration, and coordination. BIM allows stakeholders to work collaboratively on a digital model, reducing errors, optimizing construction processes, and improving overall project outcomes (Workforce Africa, 2024).

What is EQUATE doing to tap into this international market and investors as they flick into the African Continent?

EQUATE, a powerhouse with a formidable local presence in 14 African countries, boasts a leadership team of at least 9 Directors that steer us toward unparalleled success. Our dedication to innovation is not just a strategy; it’s a promise. By embracing cutting-edge technologies like BIM, WinQS, Dimension X, Blue Beam Revu and many more, EQUATE ensures a seamless fusion of excellence and efficiency.

At the heart of EQUATE’s success lies our committed workforce who is adept at effectively managing time and cost without compromising on the quality of our projects – excellence and quality guaranteed. In the realms of commercial buildings, retail, healthcare, education, finance, and residential sectors, EQUATE stands tall. Our projects are not just structures but rather testaments to our unwavering commitment to delivering word beyond the client’s expectations.

Choosing EQUATE means aligning with a company that understands the intricacies of diverse markets and who is actively shaping the future with innovation and impact. Join us in building a legacy of success where time, cost, and quality converge seamlessly.

EQUATE’s service offering compared to the international market.

EQUATE stands as a beacon of excellence, surpassing international peers with a distinctive blend of unparalleled services and unwavering commitment. Our commitment to excellence is not merely a statement but a lived reality, evident in every facet of our operations.

What sets us apart is a relentless pursuit of innovation, coupled with a deep understanding of our clients’ unique needs. EQUATE exceeds expectations through providing tailored solutions that resonate on a global scale. Our team of experts embody a passion for success and driving transformative results that redefine industry standards.

At EQUATE, client satisfaction is more than a goal but rather a cornerstone of our ethos. We pride ourselves on fostering lasting partnerships, characterized by trust, transparency, and a shared vision for success. By consistently delivering superior services, we’ve positioned ourselves as leaders in the international landscape.

Choosing EQUATE means choosing paradigm shift in consultancy – where excellence is not an aspiration, but a promise fulfilled. Elevate your business to new heights with a partner that transcends boundaries and sets a new benchmark for success in a rapidly evolving global market.

For a comprehensive look into how EQUATE is leading the development of Africa in the cost consulting space, please refer to our company profile available on our website.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the African construction industry is thriving due to a combination of economic growth, rapid urbanization, and population expansion. The continent’s projected economic growth, coupled with the demographic shift towards urban areas, has fueled demand for development in various sectors.

Infrastructure development, including roads, bridges, airports, and energy facilities is a focal point to support economic growth. Government initiatives, such as green taxonomies and fiscal incentives are attracting domestic and international investments, particularly in the energy sector.

Energy security is crucial for economic and population growth, prompting countries like Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Morocco to incentivize renewable energy investments through tax exemptions. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects in Africa, totaling $194 billion, underscore the continent’s attractiveness and job creation potential.

However, international firms face challenges as profitability concerns, tribal heritage issues, potential for conflict, cultural and linguistic diversity, and political and economic instability loom.

Successful navigation strategies involve building a strong reputation through ethical practices, prioritizing safety and sustainability, maintaining transparent communication, investing in local workforce development, establishing a local presence, and promoting technology transfer and innovation.

In summary, while challenges exist, the African construction industry offers immense growth potential. Strategic approaches that consider the continent’s unique dynamics can lead to sustainable success for international firms on this burgeoning continent.

References

African Development Bank. (2023). African Economic Outlook 2023. African Development Bank.

Aremu, J. O. (2010). Conflict in Africa: Meaning, cause, impact and solutions. Thesis.

Deltek. (2023). Deltek Clarity Architecture & Engineering Industry Survey. N/A: Deltek.

Ernst & Young. (2023). A pivot to growth. UK: Ernst & Young.

International Monetary Fund. (2024). International Monetary Fund. Retrieved from IMF: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2023/09/PT-african-century Accessed: 24 January 2024.

Raja Muhammad Rooshdi R. R., A. M. (2018). Relative importance index of sustainable design and construction activities criteria for green highway. Chem Eng Trans, 151-156.

Shumba, J. (2009). Challenges of Tribal and ethnic diversity in Africa. Andrews University.

Workforce Africa. (2024). Doing Bussiness in Africa: Complete Market Entry Guide. Retrieved from Workforce Africa: https://workforceafrica.com/doing-business-in-africa-market-entry-guide/ Accessed: 22 January 2024.

Zaminhlahla, H. W. (2022). Dynamic challenges facing SME consulting firms in the built environment sector in Kwazulu-Natal Province – The entreprenurial approach. Liverpool: University of Liverpool.

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