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Veolia’s Christophe Maquet: ‘The goal is to increase our revenue by 50%’
Veolia's Africa and Middle East director Christophe Maquet talks about the ambitions and continental projects of the French water and waste-management specialist.
A product of elite French educational institutions, Christophe Maquet, 40, joined Veolia at the end of his studies. Succeeding Patrice Fonlladosa as the head of Africa at the end of 2018, he seeks to embody the group’s renewal after a year marked by the expropriation of the Société d’Energie et d’Eau du Gabon (SEEG).
Having passed through the Middle East and Asia divisions, Maquet is not shy to state his ambitions: to increase revenue in the Africa and Middle East region by 50% in the next four years – from nearly €900m ($1bn) in 2018 – but without any additional investment. He is faced with a difficult task.
With the eviction from Gabon, the incessant reprimands by President Alpha Condé against Electricité de Guinée – managed by Veolia – and the departure of Patrice Fonlladosa, Veolia Africa experienced a turbulent year in 2018. How do you view the past months?
Christophe Maquet: I don’t look at the past but at the future. The group has strong ambitions on the continent. We have just finalised our 2020-2023 strategic plan, and the goal is to increase our revenue by 50% over the period, with a growth mix between municipal concessions and industrial services.
When you arrived, you didn’t make any changes to your country directors. Why was that?
When I went to meet our teams in the field I found competent people. There’s no reason to change them. Our idea is to support them better by decentralising our business-development teams, moving them from Paris to our three priority areas: Morocco, West Africa and Southern Africa. We have moved from a country logic to a sub-regional logic. We’ll prospect in West Africa from Abidjan, and we’ll transfer or hire about 10 additional people there to have teams closer to their customers.
What is your strategy in West Africa?
We have been present in Niger for 18 years, and we hope to continue with the Société d’Exploitation des Eaux du Niger beyond the expiry of the contract in 2021. In Ghana, I can exclusively announce that AngloGold Ashanti has awarded us a new contract for a second mine. This contract is five times larger than the first. We recently arrived in Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with PFO, where we hope to conquer markets in the agro-industrial, mining and eventually oil sectors – as we hope to do in Ghana. For Nigeria, the goal is to find a gateway in an industrial sector by 2023.
So you are now thinking by region, but also by sector?
Both at the same time. We want to rebalance our activities towards industry while pursuing our municipal services.
In Senegal, you tendered for the first public procurement offer in sub-Saharan Africa in over a decade, after Suez’s contract was suspended over a court case. Large cities in Nigeria and Kenya could follow with bidding rounds. Will you be taking part?
Nigeria is one of our target countries.
So, despite the expropriation of the SEEG – which has since been settled amicably with €45m in compensation from Gabon – Veolia is still interested in public concessions in Africa?
There are many opportunities in this market, and we consider them on a case-by-case basis. There are many countries on the continent where this activity can be carried out in a sustainable and profitable way, as is the case with us in Morocco and Niger.
You say you are interested, but in Senegal Veolia came third out of three with a price 20% higher than those of the Sénégalaise des Eaux and Suez.
An offer of this kind is long and expensive. If the group decided to submit a bid, it was because it wanted to win. As for why our offer wasn’t competitive […] I wasn’t there at the time. All I can say is that we’re not yet present in Senegal and I’d like to build links with the country in the future.
If Gabon were to relaunch a call for tenders, would you respond to it?
You’re taking part in the pre-qualification phase of a tender in Benin. Will you complete the process?
We prefer to wait until we know more about the nature of the call for tenders before making a decision.
Your contracts in Namibia and Niger expire within two years. Do you hope to renew them?
Yes, in both cases.
In Tunisia, the Office National de l’Assainissement will soon launch a new call for tenders for Greater Tunis, after a first call, in which you took part, was declared unsuccessful. Are you going to participate?
No. Veolia does not consider Tunisia to be strategic. The industrial base remains low compared to other countries, and our resources are not scalable.
What are your ambitions in Morocco?
First, to support the development of Redal (Rabat) and Amendis (Tangier, Tetouan). In Tangier, we have doubled the consumption of distributed water since 2002, and this trend is set to continue. Moroccan cities are growing, and the King considers Rabat a showcase city. A lot of projects will be happening there. We’re going to increase our staff in all our activities there. We’re going to start building a medical waste plant, and we have a nice contract with Renault in Tangier. The goal is to build more municipal and industrial contracts around those we already have.
You are not present in Algeria, but we hear you are in discussions with the oil company Sonatrach.
Algeria is a heavyweight on the continent and an industrial country. If we go there, it will only be on industrial projects. Sonatrach is a big name and a big account, so we are obviously interested in it.
Are you interested in desalination?
Eighteen months ago, we submitted a bid for Dakhla in Morocco that was won by the Engie-Nareva consortium. If more projects like this emerge elsewhere on the continent in the future, we will try to be involved.
What about waste management?
We are positioned on the processing and recovery part. We have strong ambitions for hazardous waste and we’re finalising an investment in a facility in South Africa that will allow us to better develop this market. South Africa is the leading industrial country on the continent, and we want to offer our major customers the widest range of services available. Our subsidiary, Veolia Water Technologies, is present there through a contract with ArcelorMittal.
Chief executive Antoine Frérot spent only five minutes on Africa at the 2019 shareholders’ meeting. Does he share your ambition for the continent?
Yes, since it was Antoine Frérot himself who decided on this investment in South Africa. And my appointment is also a sign of this new ambition.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.