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Pan-African cement project: Five years of a revolution

By Femi Adekoya
30 December 2020   |   3:54 am
To members of the Tombel community in Douala, Cameroon, the year 2020 would remain memorable, not for the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the renewed lifestyle they have had to enjoy as a result of the economy opening up through several road construction exercises ....

Dangote Cement factory

In 2015, the President of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote embarked on an ambitious pan-African project that would see increased cement production in many African countries. Challenging competition in many countries, Dangote set a target of 100 million tonnes production capacity by 2020. Five years after, the expansion drive has sustained momentum, laying the path to sustainable environment and transforming communities across the continent. FEMI ADEKOYA writes.

To members of the Tombel community in Douala, Cameroon, the year 2020 would remain memorable, not for the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the renewed lifestyle they have had to enjoy as a result of the economy opening up through several road construction exercises driven by Dangote Cement.

Despite the proximity to mines that are rich in pozzolana, also known as pozzolanic ash, used in cement production, Tombel had one of the least accessible roads in the region, therefore limiting the agrarian economy, access to the market for their cocoa and farm produce.

Roman engineers used two parts by weight of pozzolana mixed with one part of lime to give strength to mortar and concrete in bridges and other masonry and brickwork.

According to members of the community, constructing new roads do not just create access but opens up the economy and improves the well-being of the people. With new communities accessing new markets, the number of people living in poverty reduces.

Deputy Mayor, Tombel, Enongene Bazie Ebong, explained that the development of a 5km road in topography with loose soil, has not only opened up the economy but also reduced the number of out-of-school children in the community.

“The municipality appreciates the various initiatives of the company. It is one thing to make a demand; it is another for such to be approved. Tobel-Loum road has long been deplorable. Addressing this concern has aided the growth of businesses and the economy of the municipal”, he added.

A resident, Aobe Yvette who has been living in the community for over a decade said to commute has become easier for residents, while congestion in the town has reduced, as many are able to live and work within the community.

Community Leader, Menoh Moses, noted that the construction of the road has helped the community develop, even as he asked for continued intervention in the states.

To the Isokolo Market in Limbe II Council, Dangote’s intervention through the provision of stalls and toilets in the market place has no doubt helped to address logistics challenges among traders, as well as improved trade activities.

With the civil unrest affecting some regions in the country and creating an army of internally displaced persons, Etuka Janet’s story resonates with the company’s initiatives of impacting lives.

According to Mrs Etuka, being a beneficiary, the intervention has helped to bring stability to her family after many months of being displaced from their home.

“Accessing the stall has helped to bring stability to my family and put us back on our feet. The unrest in the country has pushed us out of our homes, but the stall has helped us to get some daily living”, she added.

On his part, Batoke Chief, HRH Molungu Otto Molive, stated that the partnership forged between the community and Dangote has been sustainable with each party fulfilling its agreement.

“We have a memorandum of understanding on the things that we believe would be of benefit to our people. Under the agreement, 80 children in the community are enjoying scholarships from the company, while some of our youths are gainfully employed at the quarry.

“We agreed to have a project each year and we are bold to say that Dangote Cement has fulfilled its part of the bargain well”, the paramount ruler added.

Dangote’s in-road to Cameroon
In 2011, Dangote announced plans to invest $100 million to build a cement factory in Cameroon, in a move that would come to check monopoly and impact the economy of the country.

Four years after, the firm’s 1.5 million metric tonnes cement plant was commissioned in Douala, with expansion plans to over three mmtpa announced immediately.

According to Aliko Dangote, Africa needs to deliberately improve its per capita consumption of cement in order to aid infrastructural development by stimulating further demand and forcing down the rising cost of the commodity.

Dangote however described the plant as “our largest Greenfield project in a neighbouring country with which we not only share a boundary but also a long history of brotherly relationship dating from our colonial days. Owing to the rich culture and history that we share, we have a better understanding of Cameroon.”

He had said: “Our desire to increase our investment with the Phase 2 project is based on not only the fast growth rate of the Cameroonian economy but also due to the warm welcome extended to us and the enabling environment created by the government of Cameroon.

“Our choice of Cameroon for this multi-million-dollar investment is quite strategic. Cameroon is the largest economy in Central Africa and is well endowed with abundant natural resources. The country also enjoys political stability, adequate security and growing infrastructural development. In addition, President Biya has created an enabling environment that has continued to attract investors both from within and outside the African continent.”

He said that the desire to ensure that Africa becomes self-sufficient in cement production informed the signing of a $4.34 billion contract with Sinoma International Engineering Company Limited, a Chinese construction giant, for the construction of 11 new cement plants in 10 African countries, and Nepal in Asia.

Stakeholders take stock
Pioneer Country Manager, Dangote Cement Cameroon SA, Abdullahi Baba, stated that the journey in the last five years has been excellent, noting that it was not easy to oversee a project from the drawing table until full actualization.

“We came in and the market was already satisfied but we brought out high-quality products at affordable prices. We are so proud of the way we have been received both by the government and the people of Cameroon and I want to say that as of today, we have become the household name and we have come to stay in the entire country.

“There are so many highpoints for the company. The first was that we came into Cameroon with the best technology available in the industry anywhere in the world. The other was that we introduced products that were the trailblazer in Cameroon at that time because our quality was up there”.

He however noted that though competition has been coming up fast in the country, the firm is not relenting on its oars, saying, “We are doing everything we can to ensure that we maintain this position, but the key thing is the market share, the profitability and the maximizing of the use of local raw materials in the production of cement.

“We had achieved so much in that direction and we believe it is a good way to go. With the firm having an indigenous country manager and Chief Executive Officer, it reinforces the local employment opportunities that we continue to provide to the people of Cameroon.

“As we continue to work on volume increase and cost reduction, our current programme of the alternative fuel system for all of our plants will equally change the game. By leveraging alternative energy, we hope to bring down our cost as much as possible considering that cement production is a high-energy intensive activity”, he added.

Minister of Mines, Industry and Technological Development, Gabriel Dodo Ndocke stated that since Dangote Group was established in Cameroon, accessibility to cement product, the price and the quality has been enhanced, adding that the impact of the company on the economy is huge.

“Today you can get cement everywhere and the price is accessible for everyone and the market has been open to other investors creating job opportunities.

“Dangote has thrown the market open and before he came to Cameroon, our market was with just one investor in the sector. The presence of other investors has made it easy for us to get cement in good quality and at an accessible price”, he added.

Succeeding Abdullahi, the new Country Manager, Bertrand Thaïs Mbouck, said when it comes to our CSR involvement and in the past six years, we have been spending an average of about 80 million CFA across the country every other year.

“What I will like to say is that when it comes to CSR, the idea is not how we benefit our balance sheet, but how we share prosperity among the people.

“Presently, we are doing a lot in all the communities where we have operations by building schools, community halls, by fixing the roads and many other things.

“In the future, we intend to continue that effort because most especially, we are very grateful for the hospitality that our community gives to us. We are very much welcome in all the places where we have our operations. We have been properly welcomed and we also live in harmony, so that will definitely continue in the line of the Group’s philosophy”, he explained.

On the company’s fifth year anniversary, he said the firm is completing a period of induction, going by the sustainable approach towards growth.

“I am engaging the whole team in that perspective and what has brought us up to the top is not the same thing we would be using to stay on top. It requires a different set of skills, as our processes should be strengthened.

“How I see our company is like a 20 to 25 years sustainable growth agenda. We have to ensure that our strategy is properly drawn and implemented by doubling our commitment, involvement, improving our attitude and everything we are doing. In essence, we are focusing on efficiency, performance and the right attitude in everything we do.

“What has really surprised us in this pandemic is that in comparison with other industries, the cement industry in Cameroon has been improving with positive outcomes. We tend to see growth in demand for our product compared to other industries.

“What we have realised in this pandemic, people have focused on some important investments in their life like building a house, as they are not traveling like they used to do. Our team also gave us an additional edge compared to the competition. Our workforce has been intensively tracing the customers, tracing the point of sale and that has given us an edge in the market”, he added.

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