Cameroon: Hayssam el Jammal, a crown of hardened steel

By Omer Mbadi
Posted on Friday, 16 September 2022 11:55

REUTERS/Yusuf Ahmad

Founder of the Prometal group, this Franco-Lebanese industrialist has established himself in the local steel and metallurgy sector over the last decade and is spreading the “made in Cameroon” concept across Central Africa. His next target: the whole continent.

The morning we meet, 13 June, his smile emerges from a face adorned with a salt-and-pepper beard and a helmet. The fluorescent green vest hides the reason we have come together: Cameroonian Minister of Mines and Industry Gabriel Dodo Ndoke has just pinned the National Order of Valour medal on Hayssam el Jammal.

An “exceptional” distinction was awarded by President Paul Biya in recognition of the entrepreneur’s contribution to the industrialisation of Cameroon. “It is an invitation to work harder and to do better every day, thanks in particular to the incentive framework for investment put in place by the Cameroonian authorities and the import-substitution policy implemented by the government,” Jammal says.

In a decade, this discreet 50-year-old – descended from a family of Franco-Lebanese entrepreneurs and arrived in Cameroon at the age of seven, whose grandfather settled in Senegal at the beginning of the last century – has succeeded in making Prometal the leader of his adopted country’s steel and metallurgy industry. To the point that Prometal now controls more than half of the Cameroonian steel market, alongside two other players.

New tech at the foundry

“Our main objective was to produce locally constructed materials conforming to international standards,” explains the “steel king”, normally a man of few words. “Therefore, on the basis of the government’s specifications, we made major investments. And then opted for diversification of our products in line with the needs of the market,” he tells us.

Jammal is pleased to have taken part in the construction of major infrastructure projects in recent years, including the Japoma stadium,  the second bridge over the Wouri in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital, and the dams in progress.

The complex that he has built, and continues to expand in Douala’s Bassa industrial zone is proof of this pride. At this centre, a number of trades – some of which had yet to exist when the company launched – such as steel melting, hot rolling, wire rod, merchant bars and profiling, have set up shop.

The technological change in the foundry enabled them to move from the induction furnace of the Prometal1 plant – where the industrial adventure began in 2010 – to the electric arc furnace of Prometal3, increasing productivity tenfold (the billets that come out of this furnace can be used to produce concrete reinforcing bars and large-calibre steel beams, angle bars and wire rods) to Prometal4, which started operating in early 2022. “We have reversed the trend for these products, 80% of which were imported.

Today, we meet, at more than 120% capacity, the national and regional demand for rebar and wire rods, and more than 90% of the steel products are produced by Prometal,” explains a company executive.

This project reflects the group’s logic, which consists in saturating the market as soon as it positions itself in a given niche

Prometal2 specialises in agricultural tools (machetes, wheelbarrows, shovels, etc.) and other construction materials (tubes, spikes, sheet metal, annealed wire and barbed wire). This ecosystem, the result of an investment of more than 150 billion CFA francs, employs more than 1,200 people, has a production capacity of 300,000 tonnes of steel products and has placed 68 items on the local and sub-regional markets.

The next objective is to enable Cameroon to save about 8 billion CFA francs, a sum disbursed each year to import 400,000 butane gas cylinders and metal structures, thanks to Prometal5, which will launch at the end of the year with a production capacity of 600,000 cylinders and 6,000 tonnes of metal structures while providing 250 jobs. “This project reflects quite well the group’s logic, which consists in saturating the market as soon as it positions itself in a given niche”, says an analyst.

CFTA and its billion+ consumers

At the head of the Prometal group, which is also present in the food industry (Novia), mass distribution (Orca) and real estate, the Franco-Lebanese businessman, who started out importing raw materials before switching to industry, is brimming with other projects in the steel sector. These are medium-term plans that he is careful not to reveal, but the investment of which will amount to approximately 100 billion CFA francs.

“We are working on mining projections for full integration in the sector. As soon as we have the minerals available, we will invest to transform them into raw materials and finished products, via industrial complexes likely to satisfy the continent’s needs,” says Jammal, counting on the earliest possible launch of these mining projects, including the Mbalam-Nabeba iron project, and on the ten or so local banks that have been supporting him since the start of this industrial epic.

The next horizon is the continent, taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and its 1.3 billion consumers. By then, Jammal hopes that he will have made the rounds of the steel business.

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