Interview: Clyde Fakhoury
What are some of the most noticeable trends in Côte d’Ivoire’s construction sector?
CLYDE FAKHOURY: Côte d’Ivoire’s national heritage – which is exceptional from an architectural standpoint – has been strongly neglected in recent decades. As a result, most buildings require significant renovation work. There is a growing awareness of the need to consolidate our built environment through different means, such as condominium associations and property, and facility management services. In this context, several public property renovation programmes have been initiated, including for administrative buildings and road infrastructure. The government has been working to restore our national heritage as a source of pride.
Within the sector, we are also seeing the advent of more responsible construction practices. Investors are searching for turnkey projects which include energy-efficient operations, and maintenance programmes to extend the life of the buildings and lower costs, of which there are a number under construction. For example, I am aware of close to 15 new office buildings sprouting up across Abidjan. However, whether this is a response to real demand remains to be seen. Regardless, rents for offices in sought-after out locations such as Plateau remain close to CFA18,000 (€27) per sq metre, meaning there is still room for prices to rise.
Can local capacity satisfy current demand?
FAKHOURY: There is more than enough capacity to respond to the current demand. We are finally seeing the creation of a local ecosystem of capable Ivorian construction companies, which are able to take on increasingly complicated projects. These new firms can also be credited with respecting international standards, such as ISO. There are a handful of large companies that have the financial and technical capabilities to respond to large tender processes. In this context, we work in close collaboration with local subcontractors to ensure that the skills acquired through new ventures trickle down to the rest of the sector. The real risk to the sustainable growth of the local industry is the openness of the market to foreign firms. The Ivorian construction sector remains young and somewhat disorganised, meaning that it does not yet have the necessary critical mass to compete on price with multinationals from the Maghreb or Europe. Pricing schedules across the sector, though primarily in the case of roads, are becoming less attractive to developers. We operate in a very capital-intensive industry, so while large firms can keep up with such pricing structures, smaller firms are kept at arm’s length or are forced to accept unreasonably low prices. We are seeing the same trend unfold within the construction materials segment, with numerous international firms making large investments, driving down prices and resulting in overcapacity.
How can the quality of public works be improved?
FAKHOURY: In my opinion, feasibility studies are carried out properly and controls are rigorous. Nonetheless, not all projects are created equal, and there are some substandard projects, but on average the country’s infrastructure conforms to international construction standards. The culprit behind the current state of our infrastructure remains lack of maintenance. The concept of budgeting for maintenance is not traditionally embedded in our business culture. Nevertheless, awareness of this issue is increasing, and new projects are taking a longer-term approach.
How would you characterise the sector’s workforce?
FAKHOURY: The country has a pool of skilled engineers, blue-collar workers, technicians and, most recently, architects. However, finding medium-level management remains the biggest challenge in terms of human resources. Currently, we are still forced to resort to expatriates to fill the gap. A potential solution to this issue is the establishment of a specialised diploma featuring in-depth exchanges with industry professionals.
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