The Democratic Republic of Congo is growing. We take a look at PPC Barnet DRC, and discuss supplying the construction sector with quality cement products with Managing Director, Iqbal Omar.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an emerging market in Africa boasting a population of 90 million, making it one of the most populated countries in the continent.
With such rapid growth across the DRC and Africa as a whole, it is no wonder the construction sector is acknowledged as an industry with booming potential.
Iqbal Omar, Managing Director of PPC Barnet DRC, recognised this and joined the company at a unique period of time.
“I joined the business in the DRC in March 2020, just at the beginning of the first COVID-19 lockdown,” he reflects. “It was an exciting opportunity because of the potential the DRC held – and still holds – as an emerging market in the continent.
“If you look at Africa, a major boom is expected from the DRC. Not only is it very centrally located, but it also has a young, educated population and a wealth of mines and resources.
In the south part of the country there are rich repositories of cobalt, nickel and diamonds, and in the eastern centre there is coal. In one part of the country close to the Ugandan border there are gold reserves, and in the east, there are vast areas of agricultural lands. So, the DRC is a country rich with resources and opportunity.”
Despite this, the DRC is not without its challenges. According to Omar, since 2016 there has been sufficient political stability to slow the pace of government decision making. This in turn has negatively impacted the DRC’s larger infrastructure projects, such as a large hydraulic power station (Inga) aimed to supply renewable electricity to the entire continent that is yet to be validated, which impact sectors across the board.
“We are still awaiting the development of a deep-sea port, the Banana Port, as DRC has one unique entry to the Atlantic Ocean that acts as a gateway to supply the country (and Africa as a whole) with all imported goods,” Omar continues. “On top of this, roads across the DRC are in poor condition. For example, you cannot connect the capital city of Kinshasa to the north or south, meaning the only way to travel is via plane or the Congo River, and by river it takes 30-40 days to reach some markets. That damages the economy when you look at the slower pace of interaction and goods exchange.
“This is a factor towards slowing the rapid growth of the country, but through the establishment of solid infrastructure investments, such as the development of better roads that will provide more efficient transport networks for example, there will follow a rise in construction product purchasing across the DRC.”
Standing as one of the leading suppliers of cement to the construction industry, PPC Barnet DRC is a division of the Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) group. The company belongs to the PPC group based in South Africa and the capital city of Pretoria where it began and after which it is named.
Having been founded in 1919, PPC is celebrating over 100 years in the industry serving customers across Africa. A century of service and experience has seen the company expand from its home of South Africa to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, with the DRC a relatively new area.
“PPC began investing more into the DRC, and 2014 saw company plans begin with the correct licenses needed to build and operate a cement plant,” Omar tells us. “It took three years to set up, but the plant was commissioned in 2017, and today we are among the top three players in the DRC market.”
This plant is a brand-new green-field project with the latest technology in the field totalling a $300 million investment, constructed by Chinese company Sinoma International Engineering.
“We are producing close around 400-500 metric kilotonnes (KT) of cement annually at the moment, and this is not our full capacity,” Omar explains. “The full capacity of the plant measures 1.2 million tonnes.”
The reason for this concerns the aforementioned need for infrastructure development. While output may not be reaching half of what the plant is capable of, the project represents PPC’s recognition of the promise and potential the DRC holds for cement and building material consumption.
EVOLVING THE WORKPLACE
Within the country, PPC Barnet DRC is focussing on the integration and collaboration of its employees at all levels. In order to help and promote a culture of being a united and collective work for developing the spirit of Ubuntu, ‘I am because we are’, the company has shifted to a new modern head quarter office.
“Our new office is an operational building with an open space to facilitate teamwork across the business,” Omar says. “This is not only between employees in the office, but also the collaboration between those at the plant and the head office in Johannesburg.
“Obviously, COVID-19 has not helped during this period, but it has not stopped us from hosting online meetings and various COVID-safe physical meetings, including major staff training sessions totalling over 4,000 hours of training collectively over the last year and a half, and we have implemented an ‘Engagement Project’ plan to monitor employee satisfaction across the business.”
PPC Barnet DRC has launched major projects over the past two years. Digiciment is one such undertaking, as a revolutionary digital app aimed at the retail business. Any shop or store can register on the app from which a customer can easily order PPC’s cement products.
“It’s really simple,” Omar explains. “We have two products on the app at the moment but very soon we will have a third. Customers can pay digitally with their credit card and it has really changed the way we engage our customers across the DRC and other African countries.
“Before Digiciment, customers would have to journey to the bank, make the payment, bring the voucher from the bank to our commercial office and so on, and this whole equation would take two to three days.
“Now, with our digital app, everything is done in an instant we have simplified, automatised and secured the transaction.”
Through the app, PPC Barnet DRC can process, view and track payments in the moment, streamlining the 02C process indefinitely. Outside payments, the app also allows PPC to track the status of deliveries from initially leaving the company warehouse to the loading and point of customer delivery, providing the company with a greater level of monitoring over its operations.
2022 AND BEYOND
Moving ahead through 2022, PPC Barnet DRC is looking to improve its IT system to align with the new structure of organisation within the company after the Huduma project comes to an end.
“In terms of expansion, we are planning to open more warehouses in the south-east of the DRC to continue to grow our footprint in the country and reach product goals,” Omar reveals. “We will also be releasing a third product sooner or later, and this expansion in product variety remains a core focus for PPC Barnet DRC.
“We are going to start utilising young Congolese talent from engineering schools and through university graduate programmes, providing experience to young professionals and bettering the company with the latest skilled workers. Lastly, our relationships with communities and the environment around the DRC are extremely important for us to uphold.
“Ensuring that we limit emissions and help improve the conditions of surrounding communities is paramount, because we are not only here to help build the DRC, but to keep it thriving.”