Political corruption, infrastructure problems and customers focused on price alone are among the issues that make Africa a uniquely challenging market for movers. However, despite the difficulties, FIDI Africa President Lydia Kaweesa is setting out to rally the industry and boost the number of FIDI Affiliates operating in the region
FF: What is your role as President of this Association?
LK: My role is to promote the interests of African members, highlight new developments on the continent and to suggest the best approach to issues specific to our environment. I’m basically the link between African Affiliates and the General Assembly.
FF: What is unique about working as a mover in your part of the world?
LK: I would say the majority of us generate 85 per cent of our business from our partners abroad. The upside to this is we do not have to invest so much in local marketing. The downside though is any social, political or economic changes that affect the West hit us really hard. We always have to keep ourselves abreast of events happening elsewhere so we can plan ahead. That’s something I find unique about our business as movers in Africa.
From a logistical and technical point of view, sometimes you need thick skin, patience and a good sense of humour. Many parts of the African continent still have major infrastructure issues to deal with, like poor road networks, unreliable rail systems, poor internet connectivity, port congestion, corruption and irregular customs requirements. We always experience overnight changes without prior notice to stakeholders. It’s a challenge sometimes, especially when you have to explain the changes/delays to an already frustrated client and agent.
Some parts of Africa do not even have access to good-quality packing materials and we have to import them from either neighbouring countries or from abroad. Obviously, this adds to the cost of moving.
And sometimes, it’s the ridiculous questions that you have to deal with. Our clearing team was once asked by a customs officer if an inbound dog was ‘new or used’. As you can imagine, we had a field day in the office that day!
FF: What is the market like at the moment?
LK: It is very depressing! Competition is very stiff. And not only is the market congested, especially with very small and inexperienced outfits, it has also got to the point where price, and only price, dictates. It doesn’t matter how good or experienced you are, if your rates aren’t competitive, you’re out of business. It’s difficult – actually impossible – to match some of the rates on the market; at the end of the day, we have different overheads. Matching or beating some of these rates would require us to compromise the quality of our services, which, in our case as Worldwide Movers Uganda, isn’t an option. We have a brand that we’ve built over the years and it’s in our best interest to protect it. I believe this is the case with many other big players in our region.
Second, we are no longer competing with fellow movers but also with homeowners. We have seen a steady increase in the number of furnished houses in our region. As a result, volumes of inbound and outbound shipments have dropped drastically. Obviously, this has had a direct negative impact on our revenues.
In a situation like this, one would be tempted to ask ‘Why don’t you try relocation services?’ and I’ve heard this question several times. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option in many African countries. Our set-up is totally different from other parts of the world. To the majority of our potential clientele, ‘relocation’ sounds like a luxury service. They all have local people in their offices employed to assist international staff. So we find we are dealing with an uphill task trying to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant to the current and possibly future market needs.
The biggest issue affecting our market is the way politics is playing out in many African countries. There’s rampant corruption, political instability and insecurity in some parts of Africa. This has greatly affected the economic growth on the continent. Investors and donors are quite reluctant to take risks in Africa at the moment.
FF: What future challenges do your Affiliates face?
LK: With constantly declining revenues, coupled with fading hopes of better days in the near future, I think it might be very challenging for some Affiliates to maintain their FIDI membership. That’s the sad reality.
FF: What do you hope to achieve during your time as regional FIDI President?
LK: One of the biggest challenges for our Association is numbers. Africa is divided into three sections: North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa. FIDI Africa, which covers just the sub-Saharan region, has the lowest number of Affiliates, which limits our ability to achieve some of goals. I hope to engage my team to embark on a very difficult – but certainly achievable – task of getting more companies in our region to sign up as FIDI Affiliates.
This might sound like a far-fetched dream considering the economic circumstances on our continent, but I believe with collective effort, we can do it. If we bring on board even five new members, we will have done
FF: Why is your Association important to its members?
LK: The Association is important because it bridges the gap between the Affiliates, the FIDI Delegates, The FIDI Board and ultimately the General Assembly.. Our Affiliates know that their interests are always well represented and tabled.
FF: If you had one message for the FIDI world, what would it be?
LK: It would be a word of appreciation. I would like to thank the FIDI world for its continued support to all Africa Affiliates. We don’t take it for granted; we appreciate you very much. You’ve all been nothing but a great factor in our growth and survival in the industry.
We always endeavour to reciprocate whenever we can and also provide the support system you need from our side to sustain your accounts in our part of the world.