Running a private business in Mugabe-ruled Zimbabwe is an often arduous undertaking. Harare-headquartered agent Group Air / G. A. Freight Ltd. has managed this task quite successfully despite all external obstacles. Air freight has become one of the key revenue drivers of the group formed in 1985 since many local enterprises rely on steady imports of indispensible goods.
Nigel Mungoyo thinks big. “Our greatest asset is that we design packages which are tailored to suit our customer’s specifications and needs,” says the Senior Manager of local agent Group Air, a freight forwarding and customs clearing firm. There he heads the Transport, Purchasing, Administration and Human Resources Departments.
The ‘package’, Nigel mentions, includes all services needed to ensure uninterrupted door-to-door air freight flows. While Group Air manages all documentation, customs clearance at Harare Airport and local distribution by their own staff at one of the six offices in Zimbabwe, they cooperate with dedicated trucking firms for bringing imports from the capital to final consignees located in the southeast African country’s hinterlands. This happens predominantly in case temperature critical items like pharmaceuticals or vaccines which have to be forwarded over longer distances: “For this demanding task we always hire cool trucks from well known partnering companies,” states the manager.
Unbalanced trade flows
Sixty-five staff are currently working at Group Air / G.A. Freight. “Most of these colleagues are not only pretty experienced but know the local market and the acting players quite well,” assures Nigel. In air freight, the agent managed 5,203 tons of imports in 2013, while only 271 tons were flown out of Zimbabwe on behalf of Group Air / G. A. Freight. These two figures well exemplify the unbalanced trade flows to and from the southeast African country, whose industry is highly dependent on industrial products such as mining machines and spare parts, compressors, or computers and accessories, coming mainly from Europe or North America. The very few exports consist of molding tools and spares and human serum or plasma. In order to be able to control the mandated low temperature range for the latter products, Harare Airport is equipped with cold storage rooms.
In addition to air freight the company manages ocean transport, offers road feeder services, and acts as a customs broker.
Paperless documentation of shipments, however, is still a missing link in Zimbabwe’s air freight environment. “Our offices are fully computerized for registration and processing of customs clearance but we are not yet in control of e-freight,” states Nigel.
Joining global networks pays off
As a unique selling point in Zimbabwe which sets his enterprise apart from local competitors, he mentions the global networks his firm is a member of. This applies for instance to globally acting associations like Worldwide Cargo Marketing that offer members market support and updated information on business opportunities. “We are in some cases the only Zimbabwean agent belonging to any transnational alliance. The many benefits these kind of strategic partnerships offer to us very often provides us with a key competitive edge in the field of freight forwarding here in Zimbabwe,” the manager emphasizes. These international ties would also further enhance his firm’s market credibility, he adds.
Diamonds are Mugabe’s best friends
Group Air / G. A. Freight Ltd. presumably utilizes the capacity of intercontinental carriers such as Martinair-KLM, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Air, Emirates or South African, but occasionally also opts for national carrier Air Zimbabwe when sending out shipments. As to security standards Nigel says that the country’s Revenue Authority ZIMRA is responsible for X-raying all shipments leaving the African state.
In future, their machines might run hot since major diamond fields have been discovered in the southern parts of the country. These uncut rough diamonds will undoubtedly contribute to boost exports and bring billions of euros and dollars to Mugabe’s highly indebted state. Or Rubles since a Russian company has already been contracted to explore the fields.