World / China-Africa

Growing reputation for stability and trust

By Zhu Lixin (China Daily Africa) Updated: 2014-07-25 08:50

Growing reputation for stability and trust

The Sirrugar Commercial Center in Algeria was one of the commercial properties built by Anhui Construction Engineering Group Co Ltd. Photos provided to China Daily

Anhui-based group enjoys steady expansion in toughening markets

After the structures it built withstood a massive 2003 earthquake in Algeria mostly intact, the reputation of Anhui Construction Engineering Group Overseas Co Ltd grew rapidly in Africa, where it is a major Chinese construction company.

It is now working in 12 African countries and, in 2013 alone, had contracts in Africa worth a combined $596 million.

But there have been some hiccups. The company had to abandon a project in Libya when that country's civil war broke out.

Growing reputation for stability and trust

But current and former staff members say that in addition to the quality of its work, the solid relationships that it has built with locals have helped it continue to grow.

The company ranked 151st in the list of Top 250 International Contractors 2013, according to Engineering News-Record, a magazine published by McGraw-Hill.

"Challenges as well as setbacks have been witnessed in the 30-plus years since we set foot on the continent and Africa remains our most important and largest overseas market," says Wang Weidong, general manager of the overseas subsidiary.

In the 1980s, the company's parent, based in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province, first took a job in Africa, constructing buildings that were part of a Chinese governmental aid project in Algeria.

Anhui Construction Engineering Group, established in 1952, did not return to Africa until 2002, when it won bids for subcontract work to construct buildings in Algeria.

On May 21, 2003, the Boumerdes earthquake struck Algeria with 6.8 magnitude, killing more than 2,200 people and causing billions of dollars worth of damage. It was the strongest quake to hit Algeria in more than 20 years, and also left more than 10,000 injured and 200,000 homeless.

While many buildings collapsed, those built by the Anhui company in the 1980s as well as those the firm had under construction survived the disaster, cementing its good reputation in Africa.

Since then, the company has expanded into such countries as Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone. Aside from apartments, its repertoire includes commercial buildings like shopping malls, public buildings like hospitals and infrastructure such as roads.

Growing reputation for stability and trust

In April 2008 in Algeria, the company broke ground on a college town in Ali Mendjeli, a new town in Constantine, a major city more than 2,000 years old near the Mediterranean Sea in northeast Algeria.

The project, with a total construction area of about 620,000 square meters, will serve several institutions and includes apartments, teaching buildings, dining halls, playgrounds, stadiums and roads, with a contract value of around 2.5 billion yuan ($400 million), making it the largest single project the company has in Africa. It's scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

In July 2013, the group won a contract for another college town for 8,000 students in Algeria's El Oued province in the Sahara desert in northeast Algeria. The company will be the overall contractor for the first time rather than subcontractor and the value of the contract is about 300 million yuan. The project broke ground in November and is expected to take 20 months.

The company won two other large construction projects at the start of the year, in Angola and Algeria, with 4,100 and 6,000 apartments, respectively, adding up to a combined contract value of 3.04 billion yuan.

Not all the company's African ventures, however, have met with success.

The company was building urban infrastructure in eight Libyan towns until March 2011, when the company withdrew all its Chinese employees after the outbreak of the Libyan civil war.

"Unfinished projects had to be suspended at that time, and recently we were informed that some of the projects had been almost destroyed, with only ruins left," says Liu Guojun, who worked in the country from 2009 to 2011 as a translator.

It has been unable to collect the unpaid amounts on the contract, and the new Libyan government wants the company to pick up the pieces at its own, considerable expense, which creates a dilemma.

The Chinese authorities have been looking into business conditions in Libya, but continuing instability has convinced many companies it's not the time yet to go back in.

Growing reputation for stability and trust

Wang, the general manager, says the war was very unfortunate. "Peace is the basis for development not only for our company, but more importantly for the whole country."

With rapid development continuing in most of Africa, however, the company has been hiring more and more local workers - thousands since it started working in the continent again and currently 722 in ongoing projects. It also has brought many experienced Chinese workers to Africa who have helped teach local workers new skills.

"The localization process of our company is inseparable from local participation, so we hope that they stay with the company for a long time," says Gao Fei, who was human resources head at the Ali Mendjeli project from January 2010 to August 2012.

Gao says some local employees didn't want to stay long, being interested only in an easy, temporary job. "The situation makes it difficult for the company to train them," Gao says.

However, the company has earned respect for the advantages it provides to local workers willing to work hard and dedicate themselves to their own future as well as to that of the company.

Take Goumeida Hamza, a 32-year-old Algerian man from Constantine province who joined the company five years ago as a driver. Despite having very little education, Hamza nevertheless has proven his work ethic, company officials say.

Hamza says that with a steady job, he has been able to build his own house and get married, which has made his life "intact and happy."

He was hired in July 2009 as a water truck driver but soon got promoted to passenger car driver, ferrying company officials at the project management office of the Ali Mendjeli project.

That's where Gao got to know him.

"Mr. Hamza is a good employee with not only fine driving skills but also the qualities to endure hardship," Gao says.

"The company offered me a stable job and an opportunity to earn a decent life," Hamza says. He earns about 30,000 Algerian dinars ($377) per month, in addition to allowances such as those for business travel.

When he drives officials on overnight trips, the company gives Hamza money for a hotel, but he often sleeps in the car to save for his future.

The company's development of its workforce in Africa is an extension of its philosophy in China, where it runs a vocational school in Hefei providing specialized training to produce more highly qualified architects and technicians, company officials say.

In June 2011, Hamza invited 15 Chinese colleagues including Gao to his wedding to witness the happiest and most important moment of his life.

Gao says he could feel Hamza's happiness, which made him long for his own family in China. He used poetry to assuage those feelings, and in August 2012, Gao returned to China to work as an engineer in its project management department.

He now misses his friends in Algeria, and exchanges greetings with Hamza through the company's translator.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 07/25/2014 page19)

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