Africa in focus

One focus of Intercem‘s activities is in Africa, where the company has already successfully implemented several projects. Olaf Michelswirth, General Manager of Intercem Engineering GmbH, will share his experiences on the African continent and present the holistic solutions offered by Intercem for the African cement industry.

Since when has Intercem been active in Africa?

We were very active in the Middle East until 2009/2010, but as the market became increasingly saturated and cooled down, we sought new challenges and found them on the African continent. Our business share for Africa today is around 80 to 85%, with the focus on the sub-Saharan region.

Personally, I have known Africa for more than 25 years, I have developed a great sympathy for this continent and an understanding of the African mentality. In order to be successful here, you have to travel the countries regularly and meet the people at eye level. This is the only way to build the necessary networks in a sustainable way.

What trends do you currently see in the cement sector in the region?

There is great interest in the development of less developed countries. In principle, investors are now focusing on all African countries. A steadily growing population means that demand for cement is increasing and this is leading to investments. In the cement sector, things are progressing step by step. A large proportion of our customers are already active as cement dealers and are installing a cement grinding plant as a first step. The capacities to be installed are often chosen so that regional markets can be served. This results in a large number of smaller grinding plants in order to keep transport costs as low as possible and to remain competitive.

Which countries are you currently concentrating on?

Our activities are currently in West Africa. In 2018/2019 we have successfully commissioned grinding plants in the Ivory Coast and Côte d‘Ivoire in the capital Abidjan and in Burkina Faso/Bobo Dioulasso. Similar projects are in neighbouring countries, such as Guinea, but also in Mali and Togo.

What is particularly important in customer acquisition in Africa?

The basic prerequisites for a successful business relationship are personal access to investors and their acceptance in Africa. The reputation of our company and its references in the region are of decisive help to us. Our partnership relations with companies from the cement industry that are already active in Africa are also important and strengthen our presence. Through regular participation in trade fairs and seminars, we show long-term presence and maintain our contacts. Dealing with political and security aspects is one of the greatest challenges in some countries.

How do you present your African customers?

Our customers want ‘Made in Germany’ and expect appropriate quality and solutions adapted to their needs, which also meet their price expectations and the competition. For steel construction, sheet metal fabrication and assembly services we outsource globally to achieve the lowest possible prices. We are expected to build up or train local operating personnel with our expertise. In the medium term, our customer can thus optimize his own personnel and management requirements and produce more cost-effectively. In the long term, the business location becomes more attractive for the population and further prospects are created.

What recommendations do you give newcomers to African markets?

Despite the continent‘s supposedly inexhaustible potential, I do not recommend starting out alone, but rather joining a network experienced in Africa or seeking cooperation with companies from your own industry. Together we are stronger and more efficient. In order to win African customers for yourself, you need to have staying power. But when the trust is expressed, then it works!

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