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A committed building partner

Article - August 5, 2014
Equatorial Guinea may be small compared to its neighbors, but it has seen some big changes over the last decade and continues to be in the midst of an incredible transformation, according to Frank Casteleyn, CEO of Sogea Satom, one of the country’s leading building partners
Referring to the country’s new network of roads and highways that is near completion and promises to help move the country into the modern era, Sogea Satom CEO Frank Casteleyn says: “It was an enormously ambitious project, finally we’ve seen some significant achievements particularly in the infrastructure, for us it’s been the most visible accomplishment because we’ve taken part in its construction. A dozen years ago the country had one paved highway serving Bata-Mongomo that was in very bad shape, and very dangerous to boot. Now forest track has been replaced by a network of roads 80% paved and capable of handling large capacity transportation.”

The experience has been exhilarating, adds Mr. Casteleyn whose company has been working with the African nation’s government to help grow its economy beyond oil production by improving its infrastructure. Sogea Satom, part of the French-based VINCI Construction giant, has deep roots in Africa and over the last 80 years has put together a formidable list of building credits with projects in 20 African countries.

Equatorial Guinea stands out among the builder’s accomplishments, for its unique landscapes and building challenges. The country’s capital Malabo, sits on the northernmost island of Bioko, about 25 miles from the mainland. It’s topography characterized by lush pristine forests and surrounded by territorial water presents great potential for maritime and tourism opportunities. In addition to its natural beauty another draw is the peace the small nation offers.

Sogea Satom is one of the country’s largest employers and boasts an employee work force that is 90% native Guinean.
“I spent more than 20 years in Africa and it is here that I found the most stability and peace, social and political, and that’s very important,” says Mr. Casteleyn. “It makes investing safe. There are lots of countries where investment is not secure because we’re not certain of the security in the medium term. Here we don’t see the conflicts and political problems that you find in a lot of other African countries.”

Mr. Casteleyn suggests that the reality is contrary to Equatorial Guinea’s image, which has been touted as being among the most corrupt nations in the world by International Human Rights organizations.
“Every country has its detractors,” adds the CEO, who hopes greater transparency and openness will bring about change.

Sogea Satom is investing in the country in more ways than one. It is one of the country’s largest employers and boasts an employee work force that is 90% native Guinean.

“The people who work with us have learned to work in an organized international structure,” says the CEO, which means training employees to meet deadlines, comply with safety, training and environmental standards. It’s been a shared learning experience for the company, which has become firmly entrenched in Guinean culture and its social fabric by approaching one village at a time.

“Sogea is different from other corporations because most have established themselves by way of Malabo the capital,” says Mr. Casteleyn. “We started in Mongomo, clear across the country, with small projects. We didn’t start in the big cities.”

From Mongomo, the builder continued its trek inland, Añisoc to Akonibe, Ebebiyín to Niefang, Evinayong to Mikomeseng, breaking new ground in virtually every village and town in the interior mainland.

“The villages may appear archaic to a European, they’re actually structured to reflect the activities and relationships between the different clans. The villages are not designed for cars and high traffic volume, so we have to design them to accommodate modern conveniences but continue to preserve some of its traditional identity,” says Mr. Casteleyn.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. There’s a real adventure taking place here. You have to see it, live it.”