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Opinions of Monday, 30 November 2020

Columnist: Nicholas Solomon

The role of facilities management in the AfCFTA dialogue

Nicholas Solomon is a Facilities Management consultant with Hednic Consult Nicholas Solomon is a Facilities Management consultant with Hednic Consult

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the biggest strategic and most relevant economic decision made by African leaders that will spur economic growth and make Africa self-depending. AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade area, has the potential to transform the continent with its potential market of 1.2 billion people and combined GDP of around $3 trillion across the 54-member states of the African Union (

However, this will not be the first time Africa is freely trading internally. In looking at the days of the Sahelian kingdoms, the ancient African civilizations that took place between 14th -19th century witnessed internal trading activities to the extent that Mansa Musa of ancient Mali empire engaged in trading activities with monarchs beyond the African continent giving an indication of Africa being in possession of a strong market (Rodney, 1972).

This was made possible through the enormous benefits of arable lands and natural resources that were present in the southern parts of the Sahara desserts, and the major trade routes that existed along the River Nile, making ancient Egypt and Timbuktu the center of this trade in northern and western Africa respectively. In central, eastern, and southern Africa, Empires like the Mono Mutapa Empire and the Kingdom of Mapungubwe engaged in trading activities even to the horn of Africa.

The arrival of the Portuguese in 1440’s at the River Gambia, and they having a glimpse at how gold was traded on the upper reaches of the river, made them to marvel at the dexterity shown by the Mandinga and other African ethnic group merchants. The Mandinga traders carried finely balanced scales, inlaid with silver and suspended from cords of twisted silk. The gold dust and nuggets were weighted with brass weights. The expertise of the Mandinga in measuring gold and in other forms of commerce was largely due to the fact that within that ethnic group there was a core of professional traders commonly referred to as the Dioulas. Africans were therefore distinguished by their willingness to travel thousands of miles from one end of the Western Sudan to another. The trade in the Western Sudan did involve the circulation of goods originating not only from North Africa but other parts of the continent.
AfCFTA is a deliberate effort to integrate people, places, products, and services, thus, the major support system aside from the policy is the built environment. Wealth creation itself comes along with the development of infrastructure, however, this infrastructure conversation has always ignored the facilities manager. How safe, productive, healthy is the built environment that is needed to support Africa’s biggest trade integration.

If AfCFTA will be successful in this 21st century, where the built environment is increasingly becoming sensitive, smart, and user-focused, facilities management (FM) cannot be overlooked. The use of roads, airports, harbors, amongst other facilities, must support the cultural diversity that comes along with the 21st-century workplace, and managed under global best practices and standards of facilities management (FM). This article attempts to express the role of facilities management as a strategic business function for the successful implementation and sustainability of AfCFTA.

First, what is Facilities Management (FM)? It is a profession that is less known on the continent compared to developed countries.) It is a management process, which includes analytical and systematic approaches used to determine and deliver the agreed levels of service activities that are required to manage, operate, maintain and support a facility in a quality environment at appropriate cost to meet the business requirements. Bernard Williams Associates (1999).

FM is a canopy term which brings together a wide range of issues for the benefits of the organization in achieving efficiency and effectiveness at an optimal combination of cost, quality and time. The hard issues are building, equipment, furniture and the soft being people, process, safety environment, they are all the responsibilities of Facilities Management. In Africa, we have reduced the profession to maintenance stewardship making most of our facility decisions reactive rather than preventive.

We need trained and professional facility managers at the governance level in organizations to speak to what is mostly the organization’s second biggest cost center. Airports, roads, harbors, and corporate organizations must be managed to global standards if Africa is going to be the center of the world’s biggest trade union. Africa needs to take a critical look at facilities management, as it can radically improve the outcomes of our business environment, more so, improve fiscal consolidation of the public sector.

Second, we need to start paying attention to the hard infrastructure that will support the trade integration. The cost of managing an infrastructure and its ancillary facilities is known to be the second largest cost center of most organization’s expenditure. Through the lens of facilities management (FM), this lifecycle cost can significantly reduce whiles quality of habitation, safety, and health is highly maintained.

For newly initiated construction projects, it is becoming more critical that facility management consultants are involved at the design stage. Bosch and Pearce (2003) capitalized on the evidence that sustainable design and construction contributes to the creation of facilities that are energy efficient, cost less over their life cycle and improves worker productivity. Although the input of FM is required at the design stage, FM is at the operate stage. FM is required to manage the organization, the people and the workplace to attain organizational goals. The benefits of the involvement of facilities consultants in the design process include lower cost of procurement due to reduction in design alteration and rework, provision of a facility that is better suited to the needs of the end user, a facility that is attractive to potential users and clients, the one that can respond to their needs, a facility that is easy to run and maintain, control and manage. During the lifecycle of a facility, maintenance can sometimes cost about 80% more than the initial construction cost of the same facility.

Except something is done to reduce the high maintenance cost, it may end up being higher than the initial construction cost (Mydin, 2014). Thanaraju & Ali (2015) state that in public sectors where the allocated budget or funding is limited, maintenance cost is a critical factor in cost management. With this in mind, we need to strategically position Facilities Management (FM) at the center of AfCFTA to support the core businesses and facilitate the workplace of the 21st century. AfCFTA is going to unlock Africa’s prosperity and create financial independence for its teeming youth. We do not want the projected revenues from this trade integration to be wasted on maintenance of facilities; something we could have avoided from the design stage.

Also, the AfCFTA Accra secretariat must facilitate relationships between Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and local facility integrated service providers on the continent as a short to medium term strategy whiles we work to increase manufacturing on the continent.

There are many service providers in Africa that lack the requisite knowledge on the systems they manage in diverse facilities. HVAC systems, people moving systems, electromechanical systems among other critical systems are becoming smarter and sensitive by the day with the influx of new-age technology.

To be able to trade within and also compete externally, we need to be brought to speed with how these systems work, how to quickly diagnose problems, and immediately resolve system failures to reduce asset down times. Equipment and systems are not perfect in as much as we will like them to be. Despite all the advances, we still expect systems to break down sometimes. Africa loses lots of money due to downtimes, these figures are not quantified because we do not have a data collection culture.

The average facility experiences 5%-20% reduction in productivity per year and that can cost up to about $700 billion in the case of North America. If we do not facilitate unions between OEMs and local service providers, I’m afraid we might lose huge sums of monies to downtimes due to the increase in production AfCFTA comes with. Service level agreements designed by facilities managers can help push the facility service industry in Africa a step further into optimum service delivery. However, this service delivery cannot be achieved if service providers do not have standby remote assistance with OEMs, requisite system knowledge, and training culture.

Training of facility managers must be at the core as a strategic plan to implementing AfCFTA. If professionals are not trained to man the old and new industrial facilities and infrastructure that will be necessitated by AfCFTA, we stand to lose huge sums of money and lives to unsafe, unproductive, unhealthy, and non-functional spaces that is supposed to facilitate work. In Ghana for instance, there are only about forty trained facility management professionals.

The Kotoka International Airport, Accra, has about three facility management professionals that are at the helm of affairs in managing the facilities and infrastructure. It is therefore not alien that the Kotoka airport has won several awards in operational safety and functionality. With AfCFTA coming into implementation, we are going to need more of such professionals at our airports. The biggest Body of Knowledge group on facilities management, the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) has taken keen interest in developing professional facilities management persons in Africa. Governments must have a plan to train facility managers in their respective countries with the help of associations like IFMA. AfCFTA is not going to happen in a vacuum, it is going to happen in a built environment therefore, the need to empower the managers of the built environment.

Finally, I have personally advocated for a National Facilities Management Authority in Ghana. This authority will regulate the built environment space in accordance to the facilities management standards published by the international standards organization (ISO). The ISO 41001 is the international standard for a Facility Management (FM) system. It provides a framework to develop, implement and maintain effective facilities management across different sectors worldwide. We need a policy direction amongst governments to strengthen facilities management across Africa.

The AFCFTA secretariat needs to set up a desk for facilities management to deal with FM related issues in collaboration with local governments. This desk will ensure compliance related issues, fire safety, building codes, energy management, sustainable construction and building, and user-focused facilities especially in the economic zones of AfCFTA. We need to prepare Africa’s built environment for the coming progress and socio-economic developments that awaits her; Facilities management has a role to play.