Sailing to the African Continent

Hunan Daily reporter: Cao Xian, Meng Jiaoyan, Yi Ang, Zeng Guanlin

In late April, Kenya has entered the rainy season, but the rain comes and goes quickly. The Swak Dam located at where the Swak River meets the Assi River is under construction, with engineering vehicles coming and going and operating machinery rumbling. Both construction workers and equipment are busy to complete the project as scheduled.

“More than 60% of the engineering machinery and equipment here come from China,” the construction site manager Zhou Bo told reporters. Gilbert Sigby from Nairobi is operating an excavator to break up stones, on which the “SANY” logo is prominently visible. “I have operated many brands of excavators. In particular, those made in China are easy to use and energy-sufficient.” he talked with the reporter at a break.

Swak Dam, as the largest integrated water conservancy project under construction in Kenya, is built for water storage and power generation. Once completed, it can help ease the shortage of water and electricity for more than three million people around.

From Kenya’s large-scale water conservancy and hydropower projects to Algeria’s thousands of kilometers of highway, from “the Africa’s tallest skyscraper” in Egypt to the world’s largest single-train refinery in Nigeria, China and Africa under the Belt and Road Initiative has worked together with fruitful results achieved. The use of construction machinery from Hunan has contributed to complete infrastructure projects and social livelihood projects, thus facilitating connectivity and securing mutual benefit.

Across mountains and seas, “Made in Hunan” heavy machinery has introduced overseas and entered the vast Africa. As the solid cornerstone, they have built an enduring road of China-Africa cooperation and development.

1. A significant increase from 2 to over 24,000 units

“The customer originally thought it would be phased out in five years at most, but it has worked until now”

On April 26, when walked into ZLT Cranes in Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, the reporter seemed in a small museum housed kinds of Chinese construction machinery.

A white-and-orange QY50V truck crane stood in the open space of the factory. “2007 Zoomlion”, the nameplate on the bottom of the crane showed that it was produced in Changsha, Hunan 16 years ago.

It is a crane with a story.

“At the beginning, it was hard for Chinese brands to step into South African market.” Frans Williamson, a service engineer, has worked in ZLT for 15 years, and the crane is his old buddy. He recalled: “the customer originally thought that it would be phased out in five years at most, but it has worked until now.”

In 2007, Robert Cook, founder of ZLT Cranes in South Africa, finally chose to buy three cranes from Zoomlion after carefully comparing various brands of construction machinery.

“I’m convinced this is the right choice.” Robert Cook said. On the wall of ZLT’s conference room, photos showed his more than 30 trips to China over the past ten years, most of which he’s pictured with various construction machinery and equipment in China.

The three long-used cranes have become a silent “spokesperson” for “Made in China” quality reliability, but also the best witness of “Hunan-made” construction machinery into Africa. Robert Cook said, over these years, many of above 330 sets of Zoomlion equipment his company sold had played a part in the construction of major projects, including South African World Cup main stadium and South African Kusile Power Station.

Under the setting sun, the powerful heavy engineering machinery and equipment are glowed. All kinds of machinery and equipment in different colors, such as truck cranes, crawler cranes, and new aerial working platforms are ready to be put into use for new construction projects.

Since the 21st century, construction machinery enterprises based in Hunan have looked overseas to seek new opportunities for win-win cooperation. Sany Group started its internationalization journey in Africa, and obtained the first export order–two motor graders sold to Morocco in 2002.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative and the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China has teamed up with African countries to jointly implement the ten cooperation plans, eight major initiatives and nine significant projects to accelerate infrastructure connectivity among African countries.

Seizing the opportunity, construction machinery companies in Hunan rode the wave of central enterprises exploring foreign market to go globe. “Made in China” and “Built by China” forming the “best pair” have been always seen in African projects like railroads, highways, ports, electric power engineering, etc.

On the construction site of African projects, such as the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway and the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway at the extension of the Horn of Africa, the Rosso Bridge over the Senegal River in West Africa, the Merowe Dam in Sudan, the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, lifting equipment, earth-moving machine, concrete plant, and other kinds of “Hunan-made” machinery can be seen everywhere and have become a “site star”.

Tailor-made machinery has been providing to meet local needs. In the Egyptian desert, Zoomlion’s high-performance tower cranes were used to build the 385.8-meter-high Africa’s tallest building. Such cranes are easy to install and dismantle, and also adapt to the special environment of high temperature and sandy wind.

A market layout has been improving to form strong support. In Sany’s warehouse in Kenya, there are more than 4000 kinds of products, from a few dollars of screws to thousands of dollars of key accessories, so that local customers can be reassured.

Sany Group, Zoomlion, Sunward and others have gradually gained a firm foothold in Africa, and the number of their equipment has totaled more than 24,000 units, of which Hunan-made concrete machinery occupied the biggest share in the African market. Two of top 3 Chinese brands of construction machinery in Africa are from Hunan.

“I have faith in African market. Chinese enterprises have taken a proactive attitude to exporting construction machinery.” Fan Zhide, general manager assistant of Zoomlion International said, adding that Zoomlion has focused on Africa and made great efforts to build a whole industry chain system from trade, finance, service to production and R&D.

In Zoomlion’s warehouse in South Africa, more than 50 sets of engineering machinery and equipment are neatly placed. In the past, African customers placed equipment orders first and then Chinese manufacturers started production. Consequently it may has been two or three months later when products were delivered to customers. However now, the spot trading service is provided, which means that customers can directly pay for their orders, and pick up their goods from local warehouse.

With concerted efforts, the distance between China and Africa has been drawing closer step by step. On this year’s May 11, Masanneh Nyuku Kinteh, Gambia’s Ambassador to China, along with diplomatic envoys from Algeria, Mozambique, Kenya and other African countries to China visited Zoomlion Smart Industry City in Changsha, and were full of praise for scientific and technological achievements of “Made in China” construction machinery. New cooperation and opportunities are being created.

2. A big change from blame to praise

“You are genuine and your spirit of service impressed me.”

On April 27, after driving more than 260 kilometers from Johannesburg, South Africa, a group of reporters arrived Mpumalanga to visit a mine. Subsequently they were educated and trained with safety in mind. Putting on a dust mask and wearing a reflective vest and protective shoes, the reporters walked into a 28m-deep open-pit mining area covering an area of more than 4,500 square meters.

Amid the booming of machinery, four Sunward hydraulic drilling rigs were busy with boring. With the working depth of 36m at most, it takes a few minutes to drill a hole.

“Sunward is great!” Carl, the mine manager of Northern Coal (Pty) Ltd in South Africa said with a thumbs-up. He told the reporter, at present, power supply in South Africa was in great shortage and the situation of coal mine production was tense, but Sunward hydraulic drilling rigs worked 16 hours a day and still in an efficient and safe manner.

Construction machinery brands from Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries entered the African market early and gained high reputation. “Due to the inherent prejudice against Chinese products, a customer once criticized out product quality and even asked for demobilizing our equipment.” Meng Fanjie, general manager for Africa Region of Sunward International Market Development Center, recalled.

At the beginning of 2022, Sunward’s type 950 excavator entered the South African market. But this “king of mining machine” that Sunward once was proud of fell flat in a mining project.

Why did the product work well in China, but not in Africa?

Zhu Xiaoyong, a service engineer having 12-years of experience in construction machinery, ate and lived in the mine for several days, monitoring the equipment running. “I have to figure out the problem!”

After careful observation, he had an answer. It turned out that there were several reasons. For example, local operators had no experience in large excavators, so they followed the practice of small ones to set equipment parameters. Considering the mine dust is rich silica, the equipment lubrication pipeline and the hydraulic system are prone to damage if the air filter is not cleaned timely. All these caused the equipment to be alarmed and shut down frequently in the first month of use.

“After solving these problems, we communicated with our R&D staff to make improvements to these two big excavators. For example, special filters were added to the engine air intake.” Zhu Xiaoyong said.

In the end, two Sunward 950 excavators competed with that of well-known American brands and convinced the customer with their excellent performance. Since then, the customer has purchased a number of excavators of the same model. He said to Zhu Xiaoyong, “You are genuine and your spirit of service impressed me.”

Quality products plus good services have opened the door to African market. In the past three years, despite the outbreak of several waves of Covid-19 in South Africa, Sunward equipment in local large-scale mines has steadily increased in ownership.

From South Africa to Kenya, Hunaners’ innate tenacity, perseverance and patience never failed to fascinate locals.

In the office of Sany Heavy Industry Co., (Kenya) Limited on the first floor, a medal attracted the reporter. It is the “2016 Excellent After-Sales Service Provider Gold Award” badge granted by the General Manager Department of the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Project.

The Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, connecting Kenya’s capital Nairobi and the port city Mombasa, is the largest infrastructure project since Kenya’s independence and also a modern railroad built with Chinese standards, Chinese technology and Chinese equipment.

More than 120 equipment units from Sany Group were put into use for the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway. Liu Guosheng, Sany’s assistant president and general manager for East Africa Region, shared a story with reporters. Once, a transformer at the project site caught fire, and the electronic component of a mixing plant was damaged. Unfortunately, there was no such accessory available in the local warehouse. Sany Group headquarters arranged special personnel immediately to deliver the required parts to the construction site in one day from China thousands of miles away.

At that time, it became a much-told story. Sincerity is the key to winning respect and trust.

In December 2022, Kenyan President William Ruto personally operated a Sany excavator at the groundbreaking ceremony for 5,000 affordable housing units in Mavoko. Previously, many political dignitaries from Kenya, Zambia and other countries also have driven Sany excavators to break ground for important national projects.

3. A shift of identity from “gold diggers” to “good friends”

“As the business thrives, my life is getting better.”

At 10:00 a.m. on April 30 Kenya time, more than 10 local and Chinese employees punctually attended an online training on time in third-floor conference room of Sany (Kenya) Limited.

On the other end of the network, at 3:00 p.m. on April 30 Beijing time, Kang Weike, an electrical engineer at the Overseas Research Institute of Sany Group Mixer Truck Company faced the camera directly and explained in detail in English about the mixer truck’s structure, configuration, operation and maintenance.

Despite thousands of miles apart and a five-hour time difference, our steps towards the same goal cannot be stopped.

In class, Eric Otino Ojuka, a service engineer, always takes notes carefully. “In Kenya, it is difficult to become an excavator operator and engineer. But with the skills I learned from Sany, the matter became much easier.” He cherishes the present learning opportunity very much.

“Some African partners call Sany a ‘construction machinery training facility’.” Liu Guosheng, Sany’s assistant president and general manager for East Africa Region, said, adding that Sany promotes internationalization and treats its global employees equally; skills upgrading is a mandatory course.

After studies part-time in a local industrial training college for two years, Eric Otino Ojuka, 33 years old, due to his poor family, gave the opportunity to study to his younger brother who got admitted to university. Later, he worked for Chinese enterprises to build the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, Nairobi Expressway and other projects, thus having access to Chinese engineering machinery and equipment.

People called him “certificate maniac”. He took out his cell phone to show the reporter that from May last year since he started working, he has passed seven primary or intermediate engineer and lecturer certification examinations in terms of excavators, motor graders, road rollers, etc., turning himself into a senior worker. In February this year, he alone went to South Sudan and provided maintenance service for seven Sany equipment bought by local customers. At the same time he trained nearly 50 local operators with positive response.

At the Sany warehouse in Kenya, 41-year-old Peter Muller, who has been the keeper for ten years, can accurately and quickly tell where different accessories are stored.

“Before, my life was terrible. As the business thrives, my life is getting better.” He told reporters that he now earns more than enough to not only feed his family, but provide his four children with access to good education.

Through learning knowledge and grasping skills, the group of local workers who are versed in technology and management has been growing. Sany Group’s official introduced that Sany and its agent system have created more than 5,000 employment opportunities in Africa. At present, the localization rate of Sany personnel in Africa has exceeded 50%, and is still rising.

Besides in Changsha, Hunan, a number of African students have come from afar to pursue advanced studies and learn specialized knowledge in engineering machinery and manufacturing at Hunan Sany Polytechnic College, a subsidiary of Sany Group.

From product sales to technology sharing, from connectivity to people-to-people communication, Hunan construction machinery enterprises have deeply participated in the development of Africa. As Xiang Wenbo, president of Sany Group said, after years of exploring the African market, these enterprises have realized the shift of identity from “gold diggers” to “good friends”.

From 2020 to 2022, Sany didn’t slow down its development due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The business in the African market has reached a compound annual growth rate of 45.3% and the brand influence has further expanded.

With the sun rising and setting, we’re chasing our dream. In Africa, every movement of engineering machinery and equipment are witnessing the rapid change on the African land, and injecting a steady stream of strong impetus into jointly building a better future for Africa.

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