AfricaLive: Please tell readers a bit about the DNA of Capeaux and your motivation for starting the enterprise.
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: I was in Benin and spent my early years there before going to Ghana for college. I pursued civil engineering while there and began noticing some housing trends. I saw that there were people who had nice large houses but kept abandoning them and flying abroad. Meanwhile, there were people struggling in the country just to get a place of their own. A lot of this had to do with social status, and the problem signified that there was work to be done. There were empty houses that were either too big for a modest earning family to occupy, or too dilapidated for anyone to know what to do with. I saw my opportunity to set up an innovation company, and I took it.
When we got going, we started to think about architecture and building from scratch. As much as renovation was needed, we needed to have buildings built from the ground up with a clear, distinct identity. Our concept was to build houses that fit with our weather and our culture. Capeaux was born out of a need to create culturally appropriate and suitable designs, as well as green housing.
AfricaLive: Green building is yet to be widely accepted and appreciated by people in the engineering and building fraternity, as well as general society. What is Capeaux’s role in changing this?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: I believe that architects, engineers and all those in the field need to work together to make this green breakthrough. There has to be continuous learning and a willingness to reduce carbon emissions in all we do. We have the hottest continent in the world, and we have to push the green agenda as much as possible.
We ensure that the green building message is not just left to activists and those in the engineering and building field. We are advocating for it to be incorporated into the education system. Social grassroots activism is also important because we must teach every household to at least have one tree in their compounds. We must educate by doing or helping the community get such initiatives done. Once the people understand the importance of green living, then green building will no longer be a foreign idea.
AfricaLive: With the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement ratified, what are your ambitions, both in the short term and long term, when it comes to trading internationally?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: We target to transcend the Ghanaian market and go into other markets across the continent. We may have gained a firm foothold in Ghana, but we also operate in The Republic of Benin and work to create collaborations. Here we have a bilingual company that works to bring together francophone and anglophone Africa. English speaking and French-speaking African nations can work in a complementary way because they both have things to offer each other. As we build our infrastructure and homes, we must inculcate our culture into our craft. Just like developed countries have historical markers all over that Show off their culture, we must have designs that tell our story and heritage.
The problems we have in our countries call for locally made solutions. We endure hardships not knowing that we are sitting on goldmines because most of us are not enlightened or empowered enough to think like that. The solution is for us on the continent to sit together and try to innovate as much as possible. Our mindsets must also change so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities that lie in wait. Anglophone countries are leading the way in Africa because they have a certain mentality that we haven’t developed yet in francophone countries. French and English Africa must work together so that the gap can be bridged and we can all grow together.
AfricaLive: What are some of the trends in your industry at the moment, and what innovations are you looking at?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: Amid the green push, we are trying our best to make locally available green materials for building. We are also learning by attending events like the climate change conference in Ghana. We recognise that working with cement leads to a lot of carbon emissions, and our approach is to limit cement use as much as possible. Our focus in every country we work in is to use locally available materials that produce little to no carbon emissions.
We regulate cement use to about 10 per cent and use locally abundant substitute materials like timber and glass. Building lighter houses is also part of our agenda. Lighter housing helps reduce the risk of damage in case of storms and other disasters. Rapid population growth demands more housing. Locally available light materials help us set up homes quickly, easily and sustainably.
AfricaLive: Ghana faces a significant long term challenge from the twin pressures of a growing youth population and increased workplace automation brought by the 4th Industrial Revolution. In short, as a nation you must create 10 million new jobs over the coming years to avoid mass youth unemployment and possible social unrest. What steps do you believe need to be taken to empower Ghana’s private sector to succeed in driving economic growth and job creation on this scale?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: Job creation has to begin with our mindsets right from school. We must stop longing for dream jobs that nobody is creating and start creating the jobs we want. An emphasis on entrepreneurship at a young age will do us all some good. Our continent can be classified as one that has many needs yet to be realised. Lots of needs and problems usually mean solutions need to be found. We have to think about innovation and stop relying on imports. Solving problems creates jobs and income. Ten million jobs can be achieved if we not only start innovating but also looking far and wide in the continent for answers.
There is a slightly different mentality in the Anglophone countries compared to the Francophone ones; this explains the disparity in economic conditions and job creation. We have to come together and learn from each other so that we can solve our common problems.
AfricaLive: If you were to bring together Ghana’s leaders from government, higher education, and business to a roundtable meeting held at your HQ – what would be the main item on your agenda?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: The president of Ghana recently opened up opportunities for tourism through the year of return initiative. If we get to partake in the creation of such a concept as an engineering firm, it paves the way for more growth. Having the ability to take advantage of opportunities like these must start with investing in the youth. Investing in our young people begins with education. We have to move away from an education system that trains our youth to be workers and adopt one that teaches ownership and business.
AfricaLive: What is the main message you would like to communicate regarding your company and regarding Ghana?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: We are a company that is looking to improve and innovate continuously. As Africans, we don’t have any time at all to relax because we have fallen behind. Capeaux seeks to help the continent close the gap. The pandemic has exposed the need for us to work together, and geographical distance has been rendered irrelevant. We can now work across countries and get things done without having to move. As a multilingual company, we are open to working together with partners far and wide.
AfricaLive: What project are you most proud of so far?
Sewa R. Capo-Chichi: We are very proud of the project we are doing in the Benin Republic. We are doing a five-storey building, and we had to build a foundation in an area with a high water table. Projects like these are usually a huge challenge, and some firms prefer to avoid them but not us. The Benin project and others like it, give us the confidence to pursue even more around Africa.