The Southern African nation of Mozambique is less than 50 years old but is home to one of the oldest logistics companies on the continent. Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique (Mozambique Ports and Railways), responsible for the country’s ports and rail network, was founded in 1936, at a time when Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony.
Although some of the buildings owned by CFM - notably Maputo Railway Station - maintain a strong colonial architectural nuance, the CFM has been successful in bringing Mozambique’s ports and railways into the 21st century, creating a network for the country to be proud of, as well as an important component of the small country’s export industry.
We recently caught up with Mr. Adelio Dias, Director of Communications at CFM, having worked in the company for over 6 years. Mr. Dias was kind enough to discuss the firm’s origins, its significance to a country that depends on exports for growth and above all, the exciting plans it has laid out for its future.
Tentative First Steps for the New Company
When CFM was created by a government decree in the 1930s, its impact on the country was huge. Mozambique was a country whose main industry was agriculture and depended on foreign trade for its development. The creation of CFM was a key milestone in the country’s economic and social development.
Mr. Dias notes: “it was crucial for agricultural development and trade promotion.” As he explains, its foundation also cleared the path for the establishment of the Automotive Trucking Company in 1930 and eventually, the Air Transport Operation (DETA) in 1936, bringing Mozambique to the world stage in a way that it hadn’t been before.
Mr. Dias says, although the company’s roots go way back, these days it is quite a different company to the CFM from even just a few decades back. These changes have transformed CFM, he says: “A major restructuring which resulted from the reforms that had been implemented in recent decades was successfully concluded recently.”
Big ambitions in a small country
Despite its relatively small size, Mozambique is very strategically important for Southern Africa, arguably being the primary logistics gateway for the Hinterland countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. CFM therefore, has a significant role to play and its development is not just of significance to Mozambique, but indeed, to other countries in the region as well.
As Mr. Dias notes: “Our main challenge is to find transport and logistics solutions that meet the tremendous demand of our domestic market and the Southern region, where our country is the main entry and exit to the countries of the Hinterland.” These include countries like Malawi, Swaziland as well as Zambia and others.
It’s a highly ambitious organization, he says: “we believe that we are able to “strive for” a greater presence in the global marketplace, partly for the excellent human capital we have, and partly for the effort we have been making towards the development of management skills of this capital at various levels, right from operational through to strategic.”
A new strategy of openness
In recent years, CFM has opened its doors to private investment – a first in its long history. As Mr. Dias explains, this decision was driven by the need for bigger investments in infrastructure and has already allowed the company to become more efficient. Management opted for the concession model and that is already paying dividends.
Of this, Mr. Dias says: “These measures are framed in the broad program of institutional reform which apart from helping to rationalize its assets, allows the company’s participation in business in partnership with the private sector, outside its core business – the dominance of the Ports and Railways. The returns from this activity allow CFM to widen its investor base, including the rehabilitation, modernization and expansion of its infrastructure, and implementation of new initiatives.”
The scale and scope of these projects is indicative of how successful this new strategy has been. These include the expansion of the containers terminal at Nacala Port, the Nacala Integrated Logistics Corridor Project, expansion of the port at Pemba and the rehabilitation of 306 wagons for goods at the CFM Centre.
Partners and Suppliers
A number of partners and suppliers continue to be instrumental in allowing CFM to build on the progress it has already made. Primary among them has been LBH Mozambique, a shipping agency company with operations all over the world and whose ongoing cooperation will be key to ensuring Zimbabwe – through CFM – can diversify its international trade partners.
Inevitably, growing trade brings growing demand for freight, transport and logistics. CFM has put together a diverse team of partners and suppliers from around the globe to cater for these requirements, among them Maersk Mozambique, a local branch of the Danish giant, Safmarine and Grindrod (both from South Africa) and Bolloré Africa Logistics, of French origin.
Rites Infrastructure, an Indian firm, assists CFM in its larger infrastructure projects when required. Van Oord Mozambique, Lda, the local branch of a large Dutch firm, also assists with the continuous dredging required around CFM’s port operations. Finally, local firm Tsebo Servco Mozambique has been invaluable in providing tertiary services and facilities for CFM employees.
Speaking with Mr. Dias, one comes away with the impression that the dramatic changes taking place at CFM will have an impact far beyond the company’s walls. Mr. Dias seems to confirm this when he tells us: “We can be a lever for socio-economic development of the country and the Southern African region because we have undeniable comparative advantages.”
He describes what the company is going through as “profound transformation” and it’s certainly difficult to argue what that description. The economy of Mozambique has undergone its own profound transformation since the beginning of the millennium, more than doubling in that time. One can’t help but feel that the future growth of the country is very closely tied to that of the ongoing success of its major logistics firm, CFM.