There is growing concern in the construction industry in East Africa that the adoption of cement in road construction will lead to shortages and price hikes.
Already, industry players say, the region has some of the highest cement prices in the world following recent hikes, with Bamburi Cement in Nairobi selling a tonne of its Nguvu Brand at Ksh10,977.20 (US$142.5) and Power Plus at Ksh12,796.30 (US$166)/t of Power Plus brand while that from Bamburi Portland Mombasa is going for Ksh 9634.20 (US$125)/t of Nguvu and Ksh10,985.20 (US$142) for the Power Plus brand.
However, the Bamburi Cement management, speaking on behalf of the East Africa Cement Producers Association (EACPA) , said cement producers are on average operating at 60 per cent capacity, which is sufficient to meet local and regional demand and leave surplus for export.
Admitting to being the highest priced cement on the continent, Bamburi Cement blamed high power and fuel prices but argued that if the factories were to operate at full capacity, economies of scale would mitigate against future price hikes.
Despite a 4.3 growth domestic growth in 2004, when cement consumption went up 11 per cent, the July cement price hike was likely to slow down the projected growth in key areas of construction, roads and housing. The Kenya government recently awarded two concrete road contracts following many years of lobbying by EACPA.
In 2001, the Kenya government set up a concrete roads steering committee to come up with a design and application manual, as well as conduct a durability and maintenance assessment study. Uganda and Tanzania will soon also adopt concrete roads according to Michel Pucheros, the chief executive of Bamburi Cement and chair of EACPA.
EACPA comprises eight companies namely Bamburi Cement, Athi River Mining and East Africa Portland Cement all of Kenya; Hima Cement and Tororo Cement of Uganda and Tanga Cement, Mbeya Cement and Tanzania Portland Cement of Tanzania.
Hailed by proponents as cost effective in the long run, concrete roads are 40 to 50 per cent more expensive to construct traditional bitumen roads, but last for 40-50 years with minimum maintenance, while bituminous roads last for 10-12 years with up to10 per cent of initial cost being set aside for maintenance.
According to the Ministry of Roads and Public Works, it costs Ksh55m (US$714,285) to construct a kilometre of bituminous road compared with Ksh100m (US$129,870) per kilometre for a concrete one. Given a lifespan of 10 years for a bituminous road, the annual cost to the taxpayer would be Ksh5.5m (US$71,428) as opposed to Ksh2m (US$25,974) for a concrete road.
"Concrete roads, when widely embraced, will lead to huge savings in the long run as each road once done, will last a generation. But we expect the technology to take a while before it takes root here," said Vipul Agrawal, Bamburi Cement’s group product development manager.
"However, the actual road costs less, as 10-20 per cent of the project cost is provided for preliminary items such as diversion of services, establishment of site-offices, quarries, housing and material camp," said Shadrack Osiro, an engineer and the head of Roads’ Contract at the Ministry of Roads and Public Works.
To underscore the durability of concrete roads, Mr Agrawal refers to the English Point Road in the Nyali area of Mombasa, which was built in 1950 and is still going strong without much maintenance. A contract was recently awarded to the Nairobi-based Ministry of Roads’ category ’A’ contractor Kabuitu Construction Ltd for Mbagathi Road, a 2km dual carriage road at a cost of Ksh450m (US$5.8m). The construction was commissioned a fortnight ago by Minister for Roads Raila Odinga and is expected to take three months to complete.
A second contract was awarded to The French multinational Sogea Satom Construction Corporation at a cost of Ksh6.2bn (US$80.5m) for the 57.4 km Naivasha-Lanet section of the Northern Corridor. The construction will take 30 months and started in March. Some 93 per cent of the funding will come from the European Union and seven per cent from the Kenya Government. H-Young EA Ltd is the approved subcontractor.
However, the region lacks tech-nical expertise in concrete road construction technology, design and engineering supervision. For example, Kabuitu Construction Ltd bought a tarmac miller for Ksh60m (US$779,220) and also had to hire an operator from the United States. The technology has however reduced the number of manual workers employed from 45 to six.
Concrete roads are noisy, and wear and tear on tyres is high. Repair of damaged sections is also expensive since special equipment is required to cut into the concrete. However, Mr Osori said, "A surface dressing in bitumen and rubber chippings could be applied to reduce noise levels and wear and tear. But this was not provided for in the current contracts."
To mitigate the challenges, EACPA has entered into a partnership with the Kenya government whereby the association will give cement and a consultant (from South Africa) to supervise the reconstruction. "Mbagathi Road is very important to us; we want to be sure everything is done right, as it will be used as a reference for future concrete road contracts in addition to ensuring local technological transfer in capacity building," said Mr Agrawal.
Cement consumption, like that of copper and steel, is an indicator of economic development. East Africa is ranked as the lowest cement consuming region on the continent; Kenya leads with annual cement consumption of 45 kg per capita followed by Tanzania at 28kg per capita and Uganda at 27kg per capita. Zimbabwe, Ghana and Nigeria average 100kg per capita per year and South Africa is rated at 150 kg per capita per year in cement consumption.