A major water crisis exists today in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries in Africa, where millions of people live without clean drinking water. Governments and international agencies are investing in new infrastructure, and companies like Ontario’s H2Flow Equipment Inc. are working hard to address the water and sanitation challenge.
Currently on the ground in Gabon, a sovereign state on the west coast of Central Africa, the company is building the first full-scale centralized wastewater treatment plant in the West Central Africa region. Designed exclusively at the request of the Gabonese government, the plant will serve the community of Angondje, a suburb of Libreville, Gabon’s bustling capital city.
Gabon’s economic indicators are good, including an expected growth rate of 7 per cent per year – similar to the rate of expansion of China. Under the current government, a large infrastructure renewal program is under way. Gabon’s oil and mining revenues, along with investment from foreign capital, are financing the build out.
“When it comes to water and sanitation, pretty much everything has to be done,” says Jacques NdoutouMvé, H2Flow’s Regional Director for Africa. “Much of what is needed isn’t even built. Since clean water and sanitation has a direct impact on a country’s economy, the argument for effective treatment is a clear one.”
As part of the company’s entry to the Central African region, NdoutouMvé and the H2Flow team focused efforts on understanding how resources such as Export Development Canada (EDC) can support and protect companies as they enter new markets.
NdoutouMvé says Central Africa was a strategic choice for H2Flow. He references the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), an organization that brings together several countries and promotes inter-community trade and harmonization of industrial projects.
“A common market is a real advantage,” he says. “CEMAC allows progressively for similar taxation systems and regulatory environments across member states.” Combined with his strong knowledge in Gabon, Cameroon, Congo, DRC, and Equatorial Guinea, this structure helps H2Flow promote its successful projects in neighbouring regions.
As a Canadian and African, NdoutouMvé believes that Canadian companies have a unique value proposition for markets in Africa. “Canada is, for the most part, respected and loved in Africa,” he says. “We have no political agenda, we’re bilingual, and our technology is competitive. Plus, Canada is one of the strongest advocates for the Millennium Development Goals.”
With this knowledge, H2Flow is placing priority on the market. As the wastewater treatment plant project in Angondje comes to a close, the company plans replicate its success. The next step, NdoutouMvé says, is opening an office in Gabon to serve the CEMAC region this year.
Tips for doing business in Africa
NdoutouMvé offers these tips for Ontario water technology companies interested in doing business in Africa.
- Do your research. Political and economic fluctuations can pose a threat to projects. Before entering a new market, connect with agencies such as Export Development Canada to learn how to protect your business financially and legally.
- Be present. “It’s impossible to do business in a different continent over the internet. Emails and phone calls are not enough; in Africa it’s not going to work. You need to go there, shake hands, and demonstrate that your company is capable, competent, and trustworthy,” he says. “I travel to Central Africa many times per year. We have a rep in Morocco, and in Gabon we have a team.”
- Invest in the community. It’s important to train local people, NdoutouMvé says. “If something goes wrong with a piece of equipment, the government should not have to spend lots of money to bring an expert from abroad to fix it. For our wastewater treatment plant in Gabon, we’re spending 12 months training local people to transfer skills so they can quickly address issues and keep things in working order.”
Photo: H2Flow’s project in Gabon. Credit: H2Flow
Kerry Freek | Manager of Marketing and Communications | WaterTAP