Project Management Institute

Africa: New Projects, New Talent

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Africa’s population is surging and also shifting to cities. That means there’s a need for projects—especially in infrastructure. And it also shines a spotlight on a new generation of Africans tasked with turning those projects into reality.

SHEILLAH KARIMI

I think human capital has also grown a lot in Africa and in Kenya, whereby if you compare these to some years back when such infrastructure projects were happening, then you would expect a lot of expertise coming from outside. That is reducing, and we are seeing more and more Kenyans and other Africans even in the continent taking up positions like of project managers or project leads in development of these projects.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified. I’m Steve Hendershot.

Something stands out in the United Nations’ list of the world’s 15 fastest-growing cities: They’re all in sub-Saharan Africa. All 15. As we’ve seen in PMI’s Signposts Report, those numbers speak to rapid urbanization as well as overall population growth—and places some strain and pressure on African governments to build out infrastructure capable of supporting this transforming populace.

That means projects, and lots of them. Tanzania alone has 30 state-run infrastructure projects underway, in addition to lots of private-sector activity. Many of these are big, risky investments, both in terms of profit and loss, and also related to the limited window of opportunity that these nations have to translate a surging, young population into a brighter economic future.

In February 2020, Dangote Group, a multinational industrial conglomerate in Nigeria, became the first African company to join the PMI Global Executive Council. Today we’ll focus on the other side of the continent as we talk to project leaders from two of East Africa’s key markets.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

Let’s welcome Bulla Boma, head of the commercial project management office for MIC Tanzania, a mobile telecom provider that operates under the brand name Tigo. Bulla is in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. Bulla, how would you describe the project climate in Tanzania, specifically in terms of the balance between supporting the country’s more traditional, rural economy and then the pressures of urbanization?

BULLA BOMA

Our economy is mainly driven by agriculture, which is contributing about 70 percent of employment to the entire population and 25 percent of the GDP in the country. But agriculture has been driving the economy since independence, but going forward over the past years and as we keep growing in order to drive the economy, it’s not just agriculture, but it’s being supplemented by the government’s agenda to promote industrialization in order to grow the economy, hence the upcoming projects in infrastructure and oil and gas.

We are also seeing the rise in the private sector. The main sectors that are rising in private sector are telecommunication and also banking. But there’s also a growth in SMEs, which are small and medium enterprises. These are also coming up with the growing younger population.

On the infrastructural side, we have projects that are long-term and ongoing that are all facilitating the industrialization agenda that the government is currently pushing.

One of them is the standard gauge. This is an electrically powered railway project that is intended to connect the Eastern and Central African countries. Mostly aiming to aid in the transportation of goods so that we actually move into the industrialization side of things. And then we’ve also got projects that are aiming to develop our ports. This is all on the transportation side, opening up our borders, opening up the borders of African countries to be able to grow our trade and the industrialization agenda.

Then on electricity, we’ve also got a few big projects that are going on. There is a hydroelectric power station. This is also aiming to be one of the largest East African power stations, which began in 2019, and it’s expected to be ending in 2020. So these are just a few of the big ongoing infrastructural projects that are being embarked on right now by the government but also funded by donors as well.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

It’s a lot of really large project activity in a not enormous country undertaken by this administration. Obviously, they’ve made that a hallmark, but are there challenges keeping all of those projects sort of organized and moving forward just given the volume of what’s going on?

BULLA BOMA

Yeah. Given the volume, also given the nature of our economy. Yes, there are a number of challenges but the biggest one being funding, I would say. Because most of these projects are infrastructure projects that are funded by the government, but they’re also dependent on different sorts of financing and donor investments, so they sometimes take a lot longer than they expected to because of the funding issue.

But in terms of project management as well, I would say being a developing country that is now upcoming and rising, project management is also in an infant stage. Most of these projects are mostly conducted by experts in their specific fields rather than project managers who have a lot of other skills. So we also have that challenge of project management as a profession being in an infant stage and not really being recognized as a position that would add value rather than experts in that subject matter, say, engineers in engineering or urban planners in the growth of cities and the like.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Describe that process. How have you made the case that a trained project leader is able to bring some needed skills and expertise that, say, a senior engineer may not have, and what’s been the reception?

BULLA BOMA

So right now and going forward, we are seeing a rise in terms of awareness and relevance of project management, and the rest of the industries, including the government, is also catching up. So me as a project management practitioner, who is actually also now involved with the PMI chapter as one of the board of directors, we’re all working towards steering that change and creating the awareness of how actually project management would help drive to the delivery and disseminate the best practices, all in an effort to drive the delivery of these projects.

That awareness is slowly picking up, although it’s still very infant. We’re seeing a spike in the growth of SMEs as well. And with these upcoming smaller organizations, smaller institutions, they’re also a lot more open to receiving such professional credentials because they’re seeing the importance in execution of such projects. Because there’s a lot of big and smaller projects that are under execution right now, so we’re working and everybody’s doing their part, including myself, to at least promote the awareness of project management best practices and actually credentials as well.

There’s also smaller organizations that are coming up who lack processes and building the awareness and importance of building frameworks in order to tie the objectives of their companies to actual action plans and delivery of their projects as well. We’re seeing the creation of awareness is improving. People are getting more aware. Organizations are now more aware. And we’re also working together with them to improve the awareness and at least instill the importance of the whole project management profession and the relevance of actually successfully running projects and the benefits management as well.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

Another historical piece when it comes to African infrastructure projects is that often they’ve been both funded and led by business interests from beyond Africa. This latest wave of projects demands more innovation and tech and has featured more African leadership—and when there is a foreign entity involved, as in the case of the huge seaport that a Chinese firm has been pushing to build in Dar es Salaam, African governments are sometimes holding out for better terms.

Projectified’s Hannah Schmidt spoke to Sheillah Karimi, a senior program coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya with KfW Development Bank. KfW undertakes projects in developing countries on behalf of the German government, and Sheillah leads some of those projects in the water, sanitation and transportation sectors.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
SHEILLAH KARIMI

Most of the projects now, everyone is asking, “What is innovative about it?” Always I see government people asking us about projects. What is innovative about this project? What technology can we bring to make it more cost-effective, efficient? So we’re going to see data, innovation and technology really taking a center stage in this decade and the next decade on how projects are done.

People need to be well informed, so there’s going to be a lot of preparation before a project is selected and prioritized. Because of what we’re seeing in climate change and people becoming more aware of the need to manage our environment in a sustainable way, sustainability is becoming very central into what is happening now in the infrastructure investments, that are these projects harmful to the environment or not? And if they are, what are the mitigation measures? So sustainability is a whole, it’s also another game-changer. And of course we have enlightened and empowered citizens who also want to know what is happening. They want to be engaged in this, and they want accountability.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

What do you think we’re going to be seeing in maybe the more water and sanitation side of infrastructure?

SHEILLAH KARIMI

You’re going to see a lot of investments that are more resilient to climate change and more adaptable to climate change because then natural resources are becoming scarce. For example, water sources and water resources are becoming scarce. So I think there’s going to be a lot of link to climate and infrastructure investments that are resilient to the climatic conditions and the changes that are happening.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Let’s talk about some specific projects that you’ve worked on. So you’re currently working on a pipeline project in Nairobi. Can you tell me about that a little bit and how it got started?

SHEILLAH KARIMI

Yeah, actually it’s a water supply project bringing in three different financials, and this is the World Bank, the French Development Agency and of course KfW. And it’s an interesting project because then it has, what we call the Northern Collector Tunnel where water is collected, where it rains and then from another region, Mount Kenya region, and the water then has to be delivered all the way to Nairobi.

So it is quite an interesting project that is bringing three financials together to finance a project, each with their own scope. For example, the World Bank is financing the tunnel itself or rather the reserve, where if I may put it in easier terms, while the French then are financing part of the pipeline and the treatment, and KfW then we are financing the final pipes that are coming to the city.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

With a couple different financers, there sounds like, to me, a lot of coordination between different parts of the project.

SHEILLAH KARIMI

Exactly. Yes, yes. It is quite a difficult project because citizens are raising a lot of environmental issues. It was also a project that was quite politicized so it was challenging, but I’m happy that all of this was overcome because of course before such a project is carried out, there are a lot of environmental studies that are done just to make sure that the project meets all the environmental safeguards set by the bank. So this project, it was foreseen to bring about 180 million liters (47.5 million gallons) of water to the capital city.

So this project was supposed to be completed in 2017. And now we think it will be completed in 2022 because of so many other issues that have come up. First and foremost is that the costs of the project have gone up more than it was expected, and of course the costs have gone up because of the many delays that have been experienced. There are quite a number of environmental challenges that we’re still facing with the project with a lot of resettlement issues coming into play. So the project has taken long, and it is even more challenging because then when this project has now delayed and we have to keep on extending because this is a loan to the government of Kenya. We have to keep on extending our credit lines.

For example, the KfW financing was to expire in 2017, and so the government of Kenya had to ask for an extension so that we are able to complete the project. And of course such an extension comes at a cost. So far the project is not complete. And from where I see it now, I give it until 2022. The government says that they’re able to complete it by end of 2020, which is not realistic. However, the KfW-financed pipeline could be complete by end of 2020, but what is financed by perhaps the World Bank because it’s a huge project and the reservoir, that could go beyond 2020.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

So how do you overcome challenges in a project like this?

SHEILLAH KARIMI

Like you said before, it’s a lot of coordination. It’s a lot of engagement with government. So basically, trying to get meetings with the highest level that we can of the minister and, for example, minister of planning or finance whereby we tell them of the consequences of further delays because definitely further delays leads to higher costs, and that is not very good. And also citizens demanding that this project has been ongoing for like maybe seven years, eight years. Why is it not getting complete? So it’s a lot of coordination, it’s a lot of sitting with governments and trying to lobby to see if they can make it a priority and be able to unlock these things.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

What’s one piece of advice you wish you had when you started out?

SHEILLAH KARIMI

I think it’s always difficult to reconcile theory and practical. I mean in school you learn all these things, but then when you come to now practice, you realize, “Oh, practice is a bit difficult from theory.” Theory is what you’re taught in the book. But then you come to find that things are kind of different on the ground. And I keep on seeing as a project manager, no matter how much I know, especially if you’re working in the public sector, you may plan your project thoroughly, and you try to do that as much as possible. We want to get all our facts right. We want to have all the detailed information, we want to make an informed decision, and when implementation starts, then you realize that so many other things that are not foreseen and that are out of your control come into play, and they really lead into considerable project delays.

Like in some of my projects when I look back I say, “What is it that I should have done better?” For example in that Nairobi project, perhaps if we knew that this project would lead to such big delays, then we may have not financed this pipeline until we say that, “look, until the part that is financed by the World Bank is ready and then we can finance our part.”

So at times if you’re able to know to predict some of these things, then you can make better decisions. But again you move ahead with projects with a lot of optimism and looking forward to great projects not knowing that things then crop up later.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

In Africa, we’ve got a new generation of project leaders. A new recognition of the value of trained, professional project leadership. And a new wave of projects designed to propel some of the world’s fastest-growing cities toward long-term health and sustainable economic growth. These project professionals are applying tested techniques and doing so in circumstances that often require an ability to adapt and improvise. That’s a big deal, as they navigate unique and challenging circumstances on projects where success will help lay the groundwork for a critical era of growth.

NARRATOR

Thanks for listening to Projectified. If you like what you’ve heard, please subscribe to the show. And leave a rating or review—we’d love your feedback. To hear more episodes of Projectified, visit Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, Spotify or Soundcloud. Or head to PMI.org/podcast.