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Locals have a hand in region’s best roads

Article - May 21, 2015

Equatoguinean talent makes up 90% of employees at Sogea Satom, which for almost 20 years has been helping asphalt 80% of the country’s roads

Part of the French Vinci Construction giant, Sogea Satom has deep African roots. Since its first forays into the continent in the 1930s, the company has been operating on African soil for over 80 years, where it is currently active in more than 20 countries and employs no fewer than 10,000 people, including 500 expatriates of 23 different nationalities. Although it did not arrive in Equatorial Guinea until 1996, the company has quickly built up a favorable rapport with the local population, not to mention the complex network of roads, ports, buildings, hydraulic structures, and other infrastructure that it has helped put into place.

While most construction companies arrive in Guinea via Malabo, the capital, working in the small villages of Mongomo gave the company on-the-ground experience in small, traditional Guinean villages, and linked it closely to local populations.

To date, Sogea Satom has completed projects in Bata, Mongomo, Evinayong, Cogo, Ebebyin, and many other towns in Equatorial Guinea. It also built a base camp in Punta Europa so that oil companies could start oil production, in addition to working on the maintenance and improvement of the Malabo drinking water system.

The common thread through-out its projects is an awareness of the communities where it operates, something that President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo greatly values. “The objective of our infrastructure plan is to make it easier for citizens to play their part in the economic development of the country,” explains Mr. Obiang. “If citizens can each attain a level of personal well being, then the entire country benefits.”

Operating within this frame of mind, Sogea Satom has taken a rather grassroots approach to its work in Equatorial Guinea. Twelve years ago, the country had only one paved highway serving Bata-Mongomo. Now, forest track has been replaced by a network of roads, 80% of which are paved and capable of handling large capacity transportation. Airports and seaports have also been built or refurbished to high standards, offering transport possibilities that would have been unimaginable just over a decade ago.

Although things are visibly improving, Sogea Satom’s role remains the same: to work hand in hand with Guineans to make improvements that will serve them not only in the present, but also in the long term. As a testament to the company’s commitment to the local population, 90% of Sogea Satom’s employees – across all levels of responsibility – are local Guineans. As much as this benefits the local economy through job creation, Sogea Satom also benefits from the arrangement. By engaging with the local population at such a fundamental level, the company learns to adapt and optimize its workflow to the Guinean way of life. It can also train local staff to work within its established ecosystem of rules and regulations for the workplace, the environment, and the safety of its workers out on the field.

Much of what Sogea Satom has accomplished in the country over the past decade, particularly with the local population, was realized through the leadership and vision of the company’s former General Director, Frank Casteleyn. While Mr. Castelyn left his position in February to become Sogea Satom’s Deputy Regional Manager for Southern Africa, Frédéric Perrin – previously the head of the company’s East Africa operations – has taken over the reins in Equatorial Guinea looking to continue the good work of his predecessor.

Bringing with him years of experience of infrastructural development on the African continent, Mr. Perrin takes Sogea Satom forward as not only the company goes through transition, but also at a time of significant transformation for the country itself.

With companies like Sogea Satom in the driving seat of this exciting change in Equatorial Guinea, Mariola Bindang Obiang, the General Director of the diversification-focused Holding 2020 fund, believes that combined with the country’s strategic location, Equatorial Guinea can be a huge asset to any investor who wants to reach new African consumers. “It was once very difficult to lure investors,” she explains. “We had nothing.”

But now, from airports to hotels, restaurants, ports, and roads, the country has it all. “Any industry that enters production in Equatorial Guinea will easily be able to distribute its goods to neighboring countries in the region,” asserts Ms. Obiang.