Culligan International, an American company with more than 75 years of experience in offering water treatment solutions, announced last month that it will set up its regional headquarters in Kigali, Rwanda. The announcement was made during the inauguration of the Nzove 2 water treatment plant. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, President Paul Kagame said the successful completion of the project is proof that 100 per cent access to clean water will eventually be achieved.
In an interview with The New Times’ Athan Tashobya, Beyhan Nakiboglu, the CEO of Culligan Eastern African and Central Asia, spoke of their experience working in Rwanda and what motivated their expansion plans that include setting up their regional base is Kigali.
Below are the excerpts;-
Mr Beyha, congratulations upon the completion of the Nzove water treatment plant. For many Rwandans, It was the first time we were hearing about Culligan International. Tell us more about this company.
Culligan International is one of the oldest and the largest water treatment firms in the world. It was established in 1936 by Emmett J. Culligan, in Chicago, US. It moved from being a family company to a global company, and it is now established in 95 countries. Rwanda became the 95th country to have Culligan’s footprint.
Today, Culligan is proud to have provided world-class service and innovative water treatment solutions for the last 80 years, from the simplest filtration system to complex industrial water solutions. We are not only serving on municipal projects, but we also extend our services to hospitals, laboratories, industries and households.
The Nzove project was completed in record time. How did you manage to pull this off?
First of all, this was possible because of the experience we have in municipal water projects. Culligan is ready to spend money upfront without signing any contracts. We worked on our pilot project at Nzove and spent money because time is very important. We were able to bring equipment from Italy and USA, without bureaucracy.
If we had not faced bureaucratic issues at Dar es Salaam port, we would have finished Nzove project three months ago. Our containers waited for three months to be released. In fact next time we are using Mombasa port, hopefully it will be fast. I wish the railway project is completed sooner than later, it will make work easy.
Now that it is done, what next, seeing that more Rwandans need more water flowing?
We are going to rehabilitate Nzove 1 and upgrade the capacity from 24,000m3 to 40,00m3 per day. We are also extending Nzove 2 from 25,000m3 to 40,000m3, which we have already designed. We will just bring the pumps and Culligan OFSY (omni-filtration system) units. Within four months, Nzove 2 extension will be completed and within the next nine months, Nzove 1 rehabilitation work will be finished. This means that Nzove will be producing 80,000m3 of water per day in the next nine months.
The next phase of rehabilitating and increasing capacity, construction of water reservoirs, water pipelines to Mt. Kigali and service centres, among others, will cost about $28 million. We have already signed the contracts with stakeholders.
Culligan decided to finance and complete this project. This is a great sign confidence. What motivated you to do this? Not many companies would do this.
We actually got about 20 per cent advance payment and Culligan financed the rest of the budget. We knew very well that when this water plant started working, it would generate income for WASAC and they would be able to pay us.
We compensated our discounts and expenses from the advertising budget because we wanted to enter the East African market. Our confidence has paid off; we have already received invitations from Uganda and Kenya. Now that we are establishing our base in Kigali, we will be working on regional projects, operating as Rwandan company.
I read on your website that the office that handles Africa is based in Bologna, Italy. So the board decided to create a regional office in Rwanda. What inspired the move to create your base here?
We were active in Northern Africa, with seawater dissemination plants, but East Africa was one of our targets. In 2012, that’s when we decided to come. I visited Tanzania, Rwanda Kenya to make the research with the help of the American embassies and we learnt that the best country for this area was Rwanda, in terms of stability, the ease of doing business and safety.
Along the way, we had a chance to propose for a plant for Nyabarongo project. I think in fact they were skeptical, but our pilot plant proved that we were capable of working on Nzove project.
Rwanda is one of 54 countries in Africa and that means great potential for business. Have you gotten any requests since you started on Nzove? What’s the plan for tapping into this potential?
Moving to Rwanda was a very important decision; it means we will have our Culligan East and Central Africa headquarters here in Kigali to do the manufacturing, assembling and the service centre. We already bought two plots of land in Kigali’s special economic zones and construction will begin in a couple of months on the 10,000m2 area.
We are going to have our service centre and produce pipes — which will be a good export product for the country. We will employ more people and have an assembling facility for big steel structures from our American and Italian firms.
Back to the Nzove treatment plant; how do you turn such muddy and contaminated water into water that is safe to use in our homes?
That is why Culligan was established in 1936 - to treat water. Treating water looks easy but it is not; you need to know your job very well. But for this kind of muddy water, which we technically call suspended materials flying in the water, these are not chemical elements but simply added dirt materials like sand carried by running water.
This is easy to treat.
However, Nyabarongo River has iron and manganese chemicals that are more difficult to treat than the suspended solids (muddy particles). We have OFSY units invented by Culligan to treat iron, manganese and suspended solids. This is not the first project; we have worked on hundreds of similar projects.
For most of the US, water is safe to drink right out of the tap. How safe would you rate your treated water?
You saw that I drunk the water during the launch of the Nzove 2 project. It is completely safe to drink it from the tap. This is the water I drink at home without boiling it, unless there is a technical problem with the pipeline.
One of the merits of multinational companies is that they transfer knowledge. How many locals were employed and trained as compared to foreign staff who worked on the project?
Nzove 2 project practically lasted for eight months. The first three months were basically involving project study, land excavation, and soil work. But in the last eight months, we hired between 30 and 40 people every day; that means we hired hundreds of different people in that period. This, I think, impacted the local economy
In terms of knowledge transfers, WASAC gave us a team which we trained during construction and we were training them daily towards the commissioning of the project to help them manage the projects.
Now that the treatment is done, another key element is management of the plant. Will Culligan just hand over or is there a mechanism for technical support or management of the facility. How will this work?
We are not a company which will do a job, complete it and go. So we are always available for one full year to chip in and help where there is a need for periodic maintenance, unexpected issues arising or water condition changing, among others. We are here to support the local engineers, but the target is for them to manage, so we will support them.
Nzove water treatment plant gets the water from Nyabarongo. Will this river not run dry?
Ooh no! If you go to the river, you will not understand that we are getting any water from it. Our intake is about 1,000m3 per hour, which is less than 1 per cent of the river. There is not any risk whatsoever. Nyabarongo is a strong and rich river.
Culligan International President Laurence Bower announced that Nzove plant was voted the best water treatment project in the Culligan network. What was the criterion and which kind of award does this carry?
This year, we will be celebrating our 80th anniversary. And the celebrations will include over 500 Culligan staff and managers coming together in California. In 2015, we had a range of new projects we worked on and they had to compete for the best project municipal category award.
Nzove 2 project won the best municipal drinking water project because of the difficulty of geographical conditions; the water is challenging because of the presence of iron and manganese. But the most important factor was the need for the water, which made the project being worked on in the shortest time possible. The award will simply be symbolic.
Mr Berhan, is there anything else you would like to add?
I have worked on very many and even bigger projects, but Nzove 2 water plant really touched my heart more than any other. I am very honoured. For instance, there is a water treatment plant we worked on in western Turkey which produces 270,000m3 per day, but even that project didn’t delight me so much.
But seeing the need for water here, a kid carrying a jerrican heavier than them, it hurts me a lot. I am glad this plant is contributing greatly to the society.
That said, we have the capability of having water treatment plants for small villages and countryside towns from the smallest water source. This is what we are trying to assemble here, very cost effective and easy to operate.