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18 May 2021 The importance of infrastructure development, premised on innovative African solutions supported by African engineers, was unpacked in the opening remarks of the first virtual 27th annual FIDIC Africa Infrastructure Conference that commenced on 18 May.
The two-day online conference, themed “The role of a consulting engineer in a changing world – an African perspective’, brings together consulting engineers, financial institutions, and investment bodies, thought leaders, and government ministries from around Africa, to consider the changing landscape of infrastructure development and engage in problem-solving discussions. Delegates from multi-national consulting engineering firms and role-players who are active in Africa were also in attendance.
The conference was facilitated by Eng. Jeshika Ramchund, Lead Engineer, Bosch Projects and a FIDIC Africa Exco Member and Eng. Adedoyin Obikanye, of CPMS Ltd in Nigeria. The conference commenced with the opening by Eng. Chris Campbell, CEO of Consulting Engineers South Africa and Secretariat of FIDIC Africa, followed by the official welcome by Eng. Kabelo Motswagole, President of FIDIC Africa and CEO of the company, HERBCO, in Botswana.
Motswagole emphasized the importance of infrastructure development in Africa, which has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The infrastructure challenge has been played out clearly on the African continent with deep socio-economic effects. And therefore, I call on investors, engineering professionals and governments to focus on innovative infrastructure solutions by Africans for Africans. The challenge for this continent, is not the lack of educated engineers, but the application of knowledge.”
He also stressed the need for local engineers across the continent to be included in major projects. “This is a challenge to all of us as consulting engineers and governments – let’s turn this into an opportunity to promote consulting engineers and to equip local practitioners with management skills to develop a cadre a of engineers that unlock the true value in the development of our continent.”
Motswagole also stated that he is concerned as to whether the consulting engineering fraternity is being included in the decision making process for the development of infrastructure. “If consulting engineers are left out, I can confidently say, this is enabling room for disaster. We want to address our credibility, as consulting engineers, in the eyes of decision makers and all relevant stakeholders. Africans must lead the development on the continent and offer authentic solutions that makes contributions to society.”
This was also echoed by Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, CEO of FIDIC, who re-iterated the need for young engineers to take a lead in Africa.
There is huge potential for infrastructure investment in Africa, he said, including digital infrastructure. Africa has about 30% of the earths remaining mineral resources and there are fewer people with internet connectivity in Africa than there are in New York City. He also focused on the importance of applying expertise in terms of local, regional and national perspectives to address infrastructure bottlenecks on the continent.
Dr Ogunshakin also emphasized the need for African engineers not to be complacent – the global industry and construction is estimated to be worth R22 trillion, but the challenge remains that of insufficient investment.
Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Munang, conference keynote speaker and currently the Africa Regional Climate Change Co-ordinator at the United Nations Environment Programme, highlighted that the most important equation in engineering is not that it accurately represents the foundational realities that are faced at any given time, but the many solutions that lead to the most optimal outcomes that maximize socio economic benefits while minimizing risk and cost.
“African engineers need to increasingly prioritize resilient infrastructure principles. These include utilization of green infrastructure, such as rehabilitating wetlands around cities, so they can become natural drainage paths for floodwaters and will improve city planning whilst better protecting natural systems.”
He provided five key take-aways that are needed to drive the engineering profession:
- Disruptive application of knowledge technology
- Making the informal sector a core target of engineering solutions
- Positioning skills development to change challenges into opportunity
- Focusing on passion by converting ideas into solutions
- Transformational value-based leadership to drive socio-economic liberation
The first day of the conference also included insightful panel discussions.
The first panel discussion focused on ‘Integrity and Ethical Project Implementation’, which was facilitated by Eng. James Mwangi, from Kurrent Technologies, who also serves as Board member to FIDIC and as an Exco member of FIDIC Africa. Panellists included Dr Goetz-Sebastian Hoek, Partner at Dr. Hök, Stieglmeier & Kollegen; and George Daniel, Senior Procurement Specialist at the World Bank Group.
‘Challenges & Disruptions – The Consultant’s Experience,’ was the next panel discussion facilitated by Rizwan Qadri of Riz Consulting Engineering Services, and a FIDIC Africa Exco member. Panellists included Eng. Moncef Ziani, International Consultant; Eng. Ibikunle Ogunbayo and Eng. Kenneth Amollo.
The last discussion for the day, was themed ‘Project Procurement & Implementation’ and was facilitated by Eng. George Okoroma, MD for Gambeta Groupe Ltd and a FIDIC Africa Exco member. Panelists were Eng. Latoya Ouna, Structural and Construction Contracts Expert at AR Group-Engineering LTD; Eng. Elvis Mwesigwa, Project Engineer at Gauff Consultants; and Dr Mclean Sibanda, MD for Bigen Global Limited.
The first day of the conference concluded with successful deliberations across all sessions much like the interactive day of pre-conference activities on 17 May 2021. The 6th annual FIDIC Africa Future Leaders Symposium on that day brought together over 100 future leaders from across the globe on discussions around how young engineers can shape the engineering profession to create the Africa We Want through a design-thinking session followed by a heated panel discussion on the role of innovation in driving excellence in engineering.
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About FIDIC Africa
FIDIC Africa, formerly the Group of African Member Associations (GAMA) part of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) was formed in 1993 with the intention of providing a platform for collaboration and improved linkages of FIDIC Member Associations within Africa. It is run by a secretariat that manages the day-to-day activities of FIDIC Africa, whilst strategic direction and decision making is carried out through the FIDIC Africa Executive Committee comprising volunteers elected as representatives from FIDIC Africa Member Associations.