Turkey’s construction industry is booming in sub-Saharan Africa, where firms are undertaking massive building projects and rising to rival China in the region.
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Turkish construction is gaining a higher profile worldwide. In its 2022 Top 250 International Contractors list, Engineering News Record included 40 firms from Turkey, surpassed only by China and the U.S. Turkish contractors have been in foreign markets since the 1970s, starting in Libya. They then expanded in North Africa and the Middle East, and later in Eastern Europe and Asia. But more recently, Turkish engineering, architecture and construction firms have turned their focus to sub-Saharan Africa.
Ankara-based Summa, for example, built Senegal’s new 50,000-seat national stadium, which opened in February. In March the Turkish firm outbid Chinese and French rivals, winning a contract to rebuild and run Guinea Bissau’s international airport. Summa’s other construction projects include convention centres in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea, a sports arena in Rwanda, and airports in Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone, according to The Economist. “Ten years ago we had no projects in Africa outside of Libya,” says President Selim Bora. “Today 99% of our work is in Africa.”
Infrastructure projects in Africa have been especially lucrative for Turkish builders. Kenya-based news outlet The Exchange reports that Turkish enterprises have carried out more than $71 billion worth of infrastructure projects across Africa, including $19.5 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country’s trade volumes overall have increased tenfold in the sub-Saharan region in the past decade.
China has been the biggest builder in Africa for two decades, of course, and continues to dominate. But there is no shortage of work to go around, as Africa requires an estimated $12 trillion worth of new infrastructure. “This indicates that there is an opportunity in the African construction market for another player of world-class calibre. And one, Turkey, has been making progress in this regard,” The Exchange reports.
Turkish construction firms have built a reputation in Africa for high-quality work, and for working more quickly than their counterparts from China. Competing on price is another matter. “We cannot match the Chinese, because they come in with their own financing and we have to go to the markets,” says Basar Arioglu, Chairman of Yapi Merkezi (YM), a big construction firm focused mainly on railways. YM beat Chinese competitors to build the first section of Tanzania’s biggest railway line. It has since completed the first and second sections, and has signed a contract to build the third in a $1.9bn deal.
The success of Turkish builders on the continent can also be attributed to strong trade relations between Turkey and Africa. Numerous strategic partnerships have formed on the basis of the Joint Implementation Plan of Turkey-Africa Partnership, first agreed to in 2010 and then renewed in 2015. Currently Turkey is seeking membership in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. It has already joined the business councils of 45 African countries, a full 40 of which are in the Sub-Saharan region.
Turkey has also ingratiated itself with African governments by hiring local subcontractors and workers, though this is largely a matter of economics. The Economist reports that whereas “Chinese firms can afford to bring their own skilled workers, including engineers, to Africa, Turkish ones often cannot.” Further, Turkey does not have the resources to be as ubiquitous as China. To compensate, says YM’s Arioglu, Turkish firms have instead opted to “become local in all the countries we work in.”