The history of Siemens in Tunisia began more than 80 years ago. It all began in 1932, when Siemens was represented by the company of Hans Römer & Co, and as of 1953, through the Electricity Works Import SITELEC limited company.
Siemens’s presence in Tunisia was restructured in 1990 through the founding of ETTAS (Tunisian Telecommunication Company Atea-Siemens). The objective the company set for itself was to build upon the services and technical support provided by the digitalisation projects initiated by the national telecommunication network. However, this did not stop Siemens from establishing new milestones in Tunisia between 1983 and 1995. This included commissioning Africa’s first tramway.
In 1999, ETTAS was renamed Siemens Information and Communications S.A., which set up a sales network for cell towers and IT products from Fujitsu Siemens Computers. Through the integration of activities involved in the construction, analysis and conception of communications networks, the company expanded its scope of activities in 2001 and thus became a partner of Tunisiana, the second-largest telecommunication provider in Tunisia, in 2002.
In 2005, this Siemens business sector was further diversified in the areas of transport, energy and industrial automation and since 2006, the company has operated under its current name Siemens S.A. Today, Siemens S.A., like its parent company Siemens, is active in the four business sectors industry, energy, infrastructure and cities as well as healthcare.
Tunisia is one of the most diversified economies in the region and possesses a wide variety of natural resources. The technologies and solutions provided by the four business sectors serve the needs of the economy. As a company providing integrated technologies, Siemens delivers the solutions for many infrastructure challenges that Tunisia faces.
It is quite remarkable, for example, that 99 per cent of the Tunisian population has access to electricity. However, demand is growing at an annual rate of 5.4 per cent and will reach approx. 32 billion kWh by the year 2030. In light of the growing energy market, Siemens offers a comprehensive solution, which ranges from sustainable wind power technology all the way to HTCC technologies. Given this fact, Siemens commissioned the thermal power plant in Sousse in 1982 and to this day is responsible for maintenance and expansion. Since 1998, Siemens has installed 27 air-insulated, high-voltage substations (225 kV) for the interconnection of Tunisia’s and Libya’s power grids. This is in addition to the twelve gas-insulated substations (90 kV) for the Tunisian power and gas company STEG (Société Tunisienne de l’Electricité et du Gaz). Today, Siemens is still a privileged technological partner in this high potential market and has recently strengthened its position within the STEG, which is the leading company in the energy sector in Tunisia, by the realisation of the energy transportation part of the eleventh national five-year plan and it is currently installing eight gas-insulated substations.
This not only underscores Siemens’ proud tradition in the energy supply sector in the region, it also provides an opportunity to highlight the challenges posed by requirements on infrastructure dictated by a growing population, this applies in particular to the big cities of Tunis or Sfax. It is remarkable in this context that the total population of Tunis was less than 147,000 in 1900. However, in the past century, the population has seen a disproportionate growth and currently totals more than one million inhabitants.
This corresponds to a sevenfold increase within one century, which brings with it all the related challenges and opportunities.
Transport poses one of the greatest challenges and Siemens is using this opportunity to establish itself as a leader in the area. The company was the main supplier in the construction of Africa’s first tramway and consequently commissioned 140 trams as well as an almost 50-kilometre-wide network in Tunis. As part of a consortium with Colas Rail and Somatra Get, Siemens signed an agreement this year with RFR (Réseau Ferroviaire Rapid) which covers the implementation of a modernisation project for railway lines within the rapid transit network in Tunis.
Siemens’ industrial sector is also very active in Tunisia. With hundreds of industrial zones and its ten pillars of competitiveness, Tunisian industry contributes about 30 per cent of the GDP. The cement and mining sectors as well as the chemical industry with nine cement plants, an annual phosphate production of about eight million tonnes and a long tradition in phosphate extraction and processing, represent emerging markets with considerable potential.
Siemens is a major supplier of technology for these sectors and industry in general, starting with solutions for industrial automation, which serve to increase the productivity of Tunisian industrial corporations, all the way to training programmes. Siemens regularly receives important orders from the cement industry and supplies solutions for the major companies from Tunisian industry, such as the Tunisian Chemical Group GCT or SEREPT (oil and gas enterprise).
Siemens also can look back at a long history in public and private healthcare. For example, the company delivered Africa’s first CT scanner with 128 layers, which is in operation at a private hospital. With an offer that encompassed technology for medical imaging procedures and systems for laboratory diagnostics, Siemens pursued its efforts in the years that followed to install MRT systems and scanners in numerous public and private hospitals in Tunisia.
The success of Siemens Tunisia will always depend on the joint will. Tunisia as a country may only have ten million inhabitants, but it has a considerable workforce. The quality of the education system and the reservoir of engineers and scientists are among the best in the world. These features have always made it possible for Siemens to rely on highly qualified local employees when fulfilling its project commitments.
Tunisia benefits from its geographic location in the heart of the Mediterranean, thus making the country an ideal business platform. Its proximity to Europe, particularly to Germany, North Africa and the sub-Saharan Africa has proven extremely beneficial for the development of the company in the country.
The Tunisian economy suffered a noticeable setback as a result of the revolution. However, the revolution has brought about new challenges for Tunisia and Siemens. These many challenges include the willingness to fight unemployment, the commitment to promote public and private investments as well as improving the infrastructure in the inner and disadvantaged regions. Of course, there will also be projects that are subject to the risk of being delayed. The fundamental trend to urbanisation, infrastructure development and the related investments must be considered as long-term undertakings. I would like to close with a quote by Winston Churchill, which in my opinion best captures our mood: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”