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Algeria’s Condor group is (once again) taking on the African market

By Arezki Saïd
Posted on Monday, 2 August 2021 18:41

The Condor group has been determined to assert itself on the continent since 2016 (illustration). Djamel Alilat

After two difficult years, which have been dominated by a legal crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, the household appliance manufacturer Condor wants to strengthen its export positions and pass the $80m mark again.

“Our delegation has just returned from Côte d’Ivoire, where it was received by four ministers. We have signed a very important partnership contract with this country to produce and export our products, but before we start exporting, we will first create an after-sales service platform. We also plan to equip villages and localities in this country with solar panels,” said Abderrahmane Benhamadi, the Condor group’s CEO, at the beginning of July when he received us in one of his offices in Algiers.

Serious and competent

It all started when several African ambassadors, including one from Côte d’Ivoire, visited the group’s factories in Bordj Bou Arreridj, a town in the highlands, 180km east of Algiers. Then, in April 2021, a conference-exhibition was held on “promoting intra-African trade”, at the International Centre of Conferences (CIC) in Algiers.

This occasion provided the group with the perfect opportunity to present, in front of an audience of 22 ambassadors and African economic attachés accredited in Algeria, the products that were most likely to be exported.

“The ambassadors visited our production facilities and saw our manufacturing processes. They were also able to see that we are serious and competent, and that we basically offer a complete range of household products: cookers, refrigerators, televisions, air-conditioners, heaters and microwave ovens,” says Benhamadi.

In addition to its wide range of household appliances, Condor plans to rely on Algeria’s proximity to African countries. For instance, according to the Algerian manager, it only costs a few hundred dollars to send a container of products to Côte d’Ivoire, whereas it costs several thousand to import goods from China. “Our objective is to make Côte d’Ivoire our gateway to all French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa,” says the industrialist.

In fact, Condor has been present in a dozen African countries since 2017. And the group’s export sales on the continent were exceeding $80m until it suffered setbacks in 2019 (see box below).

According to our calculations, Condor Electronics’ annual revenues reached 89bn DA (about $812m) in 2017. “Every year, we generally train about 20 young Ivorians in after-sales service on our products at the Condor Academy. Ever since I created Condor, I have always focused on human resources. If the person is well trained and knows the products well, then they are the best ambassador for the brand,” says Benhamadi, who urges Algerian universities to open their doors to African graduates.

He also encourages Algerians to settle and work elsewhere on the continent. “We want to work with other countries on the continent, not just market our products to them,” he says.

A 50% increase in income

After nearly two years in the wilderness due to legal problems, the closure of several of its subsidiaries and losing 60% of its 7,000 jobs, Condor is now back on track. “We have returned to work and our turnover has grown by more than 50% over the last six months,” says Benhamadi, who maintains that, out of the 4,000 jobs lost, 1,400 have already been recovered.

“The group’s turnover for the first half of 2021 was 20bn DA (about $155m), compared to the 45bn DA made in the first quarter of 2018,” said the executive. The group plans to recover all the jobs lost and have 9,000 employees by 2023, of which no less than 2,000 will work on exports.

As of 30 June 2021, the group’s export turnover was $9m. “This is a growth of 400% compared to the same period in 2020, and if the borders reopen, we can easily reach $80 or $90m by the end of the year,” says Benhamadi.

In addition, Condor is currently awaiting the arrival of Chinese engineers, who have been hindered by the Covid-19 pandemic, before launching production on two new refrigerator manufacturing units. On the local market, demand for the group’s products remains very high, emphasises the CEO, who says that he is constantly trying to reduce costs while increasing production capacity.

Currently, the group is focusing its efforts on the Libyan and Tunisian markets.

“There is a lot of demand for our products in these two countries. The Tunisian market is the second most important, after Algeria, and our objective is to achieve a turnover of $50m per year,” says Benhamadi. He also insists that there is a very strong demand for cold products in Libya, which the group is unable to fulfill due to constraints linked to transport and border closures.

“We have only satisfied 20% of the demand in Tunisia and 10% in Libya. The Libyan market – which is open to Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt – also provides a connection to Mali and will soon exceed that of Tunisia. We are also relaunching our container exports to Mauritania, where the market is gradually picking up again,” says Condor’s CEO.

Administration not used to exporting

Even though transport costs to African countries remain high, they are nevertheless considered affordable when compared to the cost of transporting exports to China. “Above all, our greatest weaknesses are our banking system’s lack of performance, the high approach fees and our administration, which does not have a lot of experience in exporting,” says Condor’s CEO.

The issue of mobility also continues to prevent the Algerian group from fulfilling its ambitions. For example, to get to Côte d’Ivoire, Condor executives had to travel via Algiers, Tunis and Bamako before reaching Abidjan.

“Our ambition is to reach all African countries and eventually become a continental brand. We started with the Maghreb countries – Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, excluding Morocco for the moment, since the borders are closed – then French-speaking Africa, with Senegal, Benin, Republic of Congo, and now Côte d’Ivoire. This momentum was slowed down by what we experienced in Algeria and because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But we are now picking up where we left off,” says the manager.

“We are still in the very early stages of this adventure. Since we are still in the penetration phase, we are working with minimal margins. I have been saying since 2016 that this Algerian product can be marketed abroad, especially in Africa. There is strong potential. It takes courage, flexibility and rigorous planning. And when it is accompanied by a strong political will, we have huge success in exporting,” says Condor’s CEO, who also reiterates that “criminalising certain acts of export” has inflicted a lot of harm on Algerian manufacturers.

Abderahmane Benhamadi, CEO of Condor group. © Sidali Djenidi

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A brief but trying time for the Benhamadi brothers

In August 2019, Abderrahmane Benhamadi, the Condor group’s CEO, and two of his brothers were arrested and placed in preventive detention in the el-Harrach prison on suspicion of corruption and money laundering, after two days of hearings that took place on the national gendarmerie’s premises. His fourth brother Moussa, the former minister of post and ICT, died in hospital during the same period after contracting Covid-19 in el-Harrach prison.

During a vast anti-corruption campaign led by General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the regime’s new strongman following President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation in April 2019, several well-known industrialists as well as former ministers and prime ministers were arrested and imprisoned.

Released in April 2020 after nine months of provisional detention, Benhamadi took over the management of the group, whose troubles seem to have ended after Salah’s disappearance and once Abdelmadjid Tebboune became president, at the end of December 2019.

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