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Construction in West Africa

First published 2012
Copyright © WABER Conference

  • Dr Samuel Laryea, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Dr Sena Agyepong, Ashesi University College, Ghana
  • Dr Roine Leiringer, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Professor Will Hughes, University of Reading, UK

Many of the current textbooks used to teach construction-related courses in West African institutions fail to fully articulate the local construction practices and stylized facts that are unique to construction in the region. This textbook is an attempt to begin bridging this gap. The main aim is to illuminate some of the main issues and local practices relating to construction in West Africa, to provide a basis for understanding the nature of the construction sector in the subregion, and its relationship with local practices elsewhere in the world.

The idea of writing a textbook on construction in West Africa emerged during the WABER 2010 Conference which took place in Accra, Ghana on 19-21 July. Looking at the 150+ participants comprising of construction academics, researchers and practitioners, we saw the WABER conference as an opportunity to mobilise ourselves and take this first step of providing a useful textbook for students and researchers of construction in West Africa. Although the official title of the book is: “Construction in West Africa”, its origins and process of development has led most people to simply refer to it as the “WABER Book”. The end result just goes to show what we can collectively achieve when we work together, share ideas and combine what we know.

The chapters have been written by ten academics of West African origin based in six different countries. The reviewers of the draft chapters for the book are based in ten countries. This scope and diversity is one of the strengths underpinning the textbook, in that, the authors touch on a variety of interesting areas and draw upon a broad array of experiences. In some chapters, the authors have been able to relate their experiences of the construction sector in West Africa to local practices elsewhere.

The first chapter addresses the nature of economies in West Africa and its relationship with the construction sector. The production of construction goods, services, utilities and works happens within an economic context. This chapter helps in our understanding of some of the issues relating to demand and supply of construction goods and services, stylized features of the construction sector, and economic institutions that support the construction industry such as banks, insurance firms, derivative markets and non-bank financial institutions.

The second chapter provides a lens for understanding some of the historical antecedents shaping the construction of buildings and infrastructure in West Africa. Architecture and urbanisation in most West African cities have been significantly influenced by the colonial period. Many buildings in West African cities were constructed during the colonial period, as evidenced by the structures in areas such as Accra, Lagos, Abidjan and Bamako. However, one interesting thing about these buildings is how they have been incorporated over time into the local and dynamic fabric of the locality, although their uses may have changed over time according to the needs of the population, they continue to stand and testify to the British and French influence of this period and African adaptability in the independence period.

The third chapter deals with the commonly seen architecture and building forms in West Africa. The concepts of traditional architecture, i.e. colonial architecture and contemporary architecture are examined to consider the potential implications on future design and construction practices. This chapter examines the material form and construction of specifically West African architecture, attempting a brief survey of buildings from the nomadic dwellings of the Sahara ís dry savannah belt, through to the rainforest wattle and daub settlements, to the stilt buildings found in the mangrove swamps in coastal West Africa. It highlights the relationship of building construction and form to socio-cultural economic and environmental contexts in each case.

As construction activities involve input from people with the relevant knowledge and skills, the fourth chapter on human resources explores some of the common Human Resources practices in public and private construction sectors, particularly, in Ghana and Nigeria. Key issues discussed include the role and demand of human resources, workforce compositions and human resource challenges. A useful point discussed is the need for better strategic management of the construction workforce to improve the development and sustenance of the construction sector and its contribution to the economic development of the subregion.

One of the initial activities carried out for every construction project or property development is planning. This may be carried out in formal and informal ways depending on the scale of the development, location and regulatory requirements. Although there is evidence of some level of planning and building regulations during the pre-colonial era in most countries in West Africa, it was not until the colonial administration that formal planning and building regulations were institutionalised. Several decades after independence, most of the legislations and institutions established still take centre stage in current planning and building regulatory activities. With increasing urbanization in West African countries, the adequacy and strength of such institutions are put to test. In the fifth chapter, three issues are discussed in relation to the planning processes and building regulations of countries in West Africa, i.e. the planning process, building regulations and the state of cities.

Procurement approaches and contract networks are essential parts of construction projects. In a wider sense, procurement processes relate to the methods and relationships involved in the acquisition of goods, utilities, services and works. In construction, a procurement strategy describes the roles, responsibilities and relationships of the various organizations involved in developing the funding, design, construction and operation of a building or facility. In the sixth chapter, some of the salient issues covered include the institutional framework within which construction is procured; how to develop a tendering and procurement strategy for a construction project appropriate to its context; key constraints on organizing construction supply chains; and the impact of the economy on the options open to a procurer of construction work. Anyone involved in procurement decision-making should have a clear understanding of the various stages of deciding on a procurement policy, including sources of funds, management of design, management of construction, integration of supply chain, calculation of price, and method for selecting contracting parties including consultants. They also need to have an understanding of the various kinds of contracts used in construction.

The seventh chapter focuses on the calculation of price which is a fundamental activity in construction contracts. There are various techniques of how prices are calculated i.e. fixed price or cost reimbursement. This mechanism for calculating the construction price has an impact on the pricing strategy of a contractor, and on the risks associated with cash flow, financial protection and, ultimately, price. The issues covered include the calculation of construction costs, elements of a bidding price, factors considered by contractors in deciding whether or not to bid for a project, and risks that affect pricing levels. Three important concepts relating to price formation in contracts are cost, price and value. Cost refers to the amount people pay for their resources. Price refers to the amount for which people sell their products or services. Value refers to the amount buyers are willing to pay for products and services, i.e. how much it is worth to the buyer. The relationship between these three concepts is vital in procurement and price formation in construction contracts.

Once a project is planned and the contractual arrangements are set out between the employer, contractor and other members of the supply chain, appropriate materials and methods need to be mobilised for actual production of the work on a construction site. Chapter eight offers a detailed explanation of various kinds of methods and materials used in construction production, particularly in Ghana. It discusses the indigenous self-built construction techniques in Ghana and provides comprehensive range of alternative solutions covering contemporary and conventional methods of construction. Some of the key areas described relate to construction methods of foundations and retaining structures, ground water control, floors, walls, doors and windows and roofs, which form the major components of a building structure. Most of these are illustrated with drawings and photographs of actual construction techniques in progress.

Education is key to the development and future of the construction professions and industry in West Africa. The final chapter looks at the major academic institutions in the region that provide built environment education, and the courses offered. Most part of the built environment education offered in universities has traditionally been focused around six main areas of architecture, building, estate management, quantity surveying, surveying and geoinformatics, and urban and regional planning. New areas like construction management, project management, real estate, and procurement management are emerging. It is crucial to keep the built environment programmes offered in West African institutions fresh and up-to-date. A possible way to achieve this is to align the programmes with changing national needs and global trends.

As to the best of our knowledge this is the first textbook of its kind focusing on West Africa. It is impressive to have such an important piece of academic material from a wide range of West African academics. We wish to thank and commend all eight authors of this first edition on a job well done.


Construction in West Africa
First published in July 2012

Table of Contents
  • Preface, v
  • Biographical Information of Authors, ix
  • Acknowledgements, iii
  • Table of Contents, xvii
  • List of Tables, xviii
  • List of Figures, xix
Chapter 1 : The Economy and The Construction Sector in West Africa, 1 Prof Paul Alagidede
Chapter 2 : Historical Overview of Construction in West Africa, 35 Prof George Intsiful
Chapter 3 : Architecture and Building Forms, 53 Dr Ola Uduku
Chapter 4 : Planning Processes and Building Regulations of Countries In West Africa, 71 Dr Michael Poku-Boansi
Chapter 5 : Human Resources, 119 Dr Nii Amponsah Ankrah, Dr Sena Agyepong, Dr Divine Ahadzie
Chapter 6 : Procurement and Contracts, 139 Dr Samuel Laryea
Chapter 7 : Price Formation in Construction Contracts, 167 Dr Samuel Laryea
Chapter 8 : Construction Production and Technology, 195 Mr Jackson G.K. Abankwa
Chapter 9 : Built Environment Education in West Africa, 241 Dr Samuel Laryea