One-on-One with Steve Msamala – First Malawian head of Air Malawi cargo services in UK

*While Malawi’s flagship airline, the embattled Air Malawi is struggling to make a mark one man inspired by Napoleon Hill still believes that whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve, and in his mind’s eye he envisions that one day the  national Air Malawi will be back on track, of course, with concerted efforts from all Malawians.

Air Malawi, with a tagline, Africa’s Friendly Airline which began its operation in 1964 as a subsidiary of Central African Airways (CAA) and only became an  independent national Flag carrier in 1967 after CAA wound down and in the same year Air Malawi was officially established by an act of Parliament as a self-governing airline, and quickly introduced two Vickers Viscounts, a Beech C55 Baron and a DC-3 to its fleet, the following year on 1st January 1968 Air Malawi became a member of the international Air Transport Association (IATA) During those years Air Malawi used to have a fleet of passenger planes. Not anymore.

The Malawian government has since 2000 attempted on two occasions to privatise the truculent airline unsuccessfully. The first attempt in 2003 failed because the successful bidder, in partnership with South African Airways, was unable to post a security bond. The second shot to rid off the non-profit making airline in 2007 was also botched after disagreements over the terms with the bidder, Comair of South Africa. The rest is history.

What remains of the once mighty Malawi’s flag carrier is a cargo services entity which was instituted in August 2000 and to this day, Air Malawi Cargo is still in the game making strides. Nyasa Times senior journalist and columnist Peter Makossah referred to in this interview as (PM) talks to Steve Msamala (SM) the first Malawian to manage Air Malawi Cargo Services in the UK and Europe after over a decade since the company opened its doors in London.

Steve Msamala

Msamala took over the reigns only this year, but according to him, Air Malawi Cargo Services UK is fast-growing into an organisation of international status. Here is a story of how Steve (Msamala) is on the warpath to bring the lost glory of the yesteryears to the Africa’s friendliest Airliner back into the fold…

Excerpts

PM: Tell me about Air Malawi Cargo Services?”

SM: “Air Malawi Cargo is a subsidiary of Air Malawi Limited, the national flag carrier. It is headquartered at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe. Air cargo came into existence on 1stAugust 2000. Air Malawi as a flagship airliner decided to establish an Air Cargo department as an autonomous business entity…”

PM: “What’s Air Cargo’s business philosophy?”

“Our philosophy has always been performance-driven. As flag carriers, we know we have a duty and an enormous responsibility to serve the country and at the same time fly our national flag a lot to the rest of the world. We always strive to give our clients the best. Air Malawi Cargo Services as a mainstay of the company of Air Malawi in cargo services, freighter operations, Cargo Charters, Cargo handling, warehousing, Cargo Agency activities, pick- up and delivery, we aim to give our clientele quality service delivery. We also provide training in Air cargo profession such as IATA standards. Our Vision is: ‘’ to be the first choice provider for all air cargo services in Malawi.

PM: “How effective is Air Cargo as an independent entity?”

SM: “Air Cargo Services Malawi Limited, to be honest, is one of the most profitable organisations. It is effective and so efficient in its operations. Our customers can bear witness to this. Air Malawi Cargo Services has at all times been doing. We always work hard. Under the headship of its general manager (Mr. Limbe) Air Malawi Cargo has turned out to be a national pride that does not disappoint. Against all odds, we try as much as possible to serve Malawians and all our other customers to the best of our ability because we know we are the flag carriers.

PM: “How is it possible that your mother company, Air Malawi is failing miserably on the business front and yet you claim that Air Cargo is doing well?”

SM: “I am talking about Air Cargo Services Limited and not Air Malawi here. I’ve no authority or mandate to talk about Air Malawi in general terms. I will be out of order if I do that…”

PM: “What does Air Malawi do in the UK ?

SM: “Air Malawi in the UK is mainly dealing in cargo services.  There are thousands of Malawians leaving in all over the United Kingdom. There are lots Malawians in England, Scotland and Wales. Therefore the airline’s main duty is to provide cargo services to these Malawians, Organisations, Cargo agents and business people…

“Malawians and other nationalities send their goods back home through us to their families, relatives and friends. Others send their baggage when they are going on holidays, weddings and some when they have successfully finished their studies in the UK. We also have a segment of clients from Great Britain and Europe who relocate to Malawi on contracts…”

PM: “You’re the first Malawian to be at the helm of the country’s flag carrier since it opened its doors in the UK after more than 30 years, how are you coping up based on the fact that all the employees in the office are non-Malawian?

SM: “It is, in fact, a big challenge, especially when I’d just come in, it seemed cloudy but things are getting normal now. I believe that courage is a force that makes our lives brilliant and life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. With God everything is possible. I can assure you that those who walk with God reach their destination.

PM: “What are the challenges that Air Malawi Cargo Services UK is facing at the moment?”

SM: “Our main challenge is that we’ve stiff competition against bigger Airlines, apart from the global economic downturn which has affected almost all airlines and is largely causing rising of fuel prices. Another challenge is the issue of charges on collection (pay-forward), for instance, in the past, many Malawian customers in the UK and other business entities in Malawi were sending or importing cargo and pay in Kwacha when the goods have arrived in Malawi, unfortunately, we cannot continue with this facility.

PM: “Why not?”

SM: “…Because we now have to remit funds to our service providers in foreign currency and on behalf of Air Malawi Cargo the company I sincerely apologise but they must understand that it’s beyond our comprehension. We, too, need to pay our service providers in foreign currency. It’s hard, we know, that there’s currently shortage of foreign exchange in Malawi but can’t help it.”

PM: “What’s more?”

SM: “There are other challenges which I’m already dealing with. For example, some Malawians still don’t know the difference between Air Malawi Cargo and Malawi Revenue authority (MRA) they ask me why MRA charges customs duty on their goods yet they’ve already paid airfreight charges in UK. But chief among all is most Malawians mentality. They don’t use their own Cargo service, Air Malawi Cargo Services which is not only but reliable and affordable. Instead they use ‘briefcase’ organisations owned by unscrupulous business people who are unqualified that end up ripping them off. Air Malawi Cargo is for all Malawians by Malawians and it is only Malawians that can make it succeed!”

PM: “Has your appointment as the first Malawian at the company made any impact to the Malawiand in diaspora?”

SM: “That’s a tricky question; my opinion is that Malawians themselves who live in United Kingdom and have of late used our facility can be the best judges. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, well I have the trumpet, but since I came to the helm of this office a lot of customers are happy with our services. I can confidently tell you that business have picked up now than never before. We get a lot of phone calls, emails and messages on our official facebook page.”

PM: “So far, what has been your priority?”

SM: “My priorities were to facelift the corporate image and make Air Malawi Cargo known for its quality service delivery. I have been intensifying marketing strategies and also been identifying customer needs and satisfy their needs. I have also put an emphasis on customer care. I have also established links with so many corporate potential clients and make them aware of our existence here in the UK.”

PM “What are the problems you face when advertising your services?”

SM: “That’s a good question. The question that I’m often asked by several people is ’’Does Air Malawi still exists?’’ I think the problem was that in the past there was very little that was done as regards marketing Air Malawi as a product. I’ve so far produced Air Malawi banners, fliers and which I make sure to distribute to any gathering where I believe there are possible clients and I personally tell them by word of mouth that Air Malawi Cargo services is alive and kicking and as efficient as ever and this has seen the growth in number of our clientele. People are also following us on social media both on Facebook and Twitter…”

PM: “Air Malawi has no plane of its own for cargo business, how do your business?”

SM: “Air Malawi cargo is in partnership with one of reputable airlines in the world, Emirates Airlines. Our blend in cargo services delivery on Malawi market is only second but to none. I can challenge that there’s no any other airline on the market that can transmit your cargo from the UK today and be delivered the following day in Malawi, apart from us. I am not talking about passenger checked-in-luggage here, I’m talking about unaccompanied baggage, get me right on this fact. Our services are splendid and user-friendly. We are reliable, the quicker but affordable.”

PM: “What makes Air Malawi Cargo Services UK stand out against local cargo organisations on the market for the Malawian clientele?”

SM: “We’re unique because Air we are the only airline providing freighter (cargo plane) services out of Europe to Malawi therefore no weight or size restrictions, the airline is represented by energetic, dynamic and experienced Malawian in air cargo field. Our rates are so competitive while our customer care is first-rate. We are Africa’s friendliest air cargo service.

PM: “If there’s one thing you would to see change, what could it be?”

SM: “One major change I would love is to see all diaspora Malawians living in the UK supporting their own flagship air cargo services because in so doing they will not only be patriotic to their country, but they’ll be contributing to their country’s economy. I beseech my fellow Malawians that we must join hands in supporting our own Airline. If Air Malawi Cargo grows bigger on the world it will be pride for every Malawian. This is not about Steve Msamala, this about our country, our pride, our economy and our national airline.”

PM: “Who is Steve Msamala?”

SM: “I’m a humble, indigenous Malawian with extensive experience in IATA Airline Management.  Professionally I’m a Marketer, a holder of Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA). I’m a humble citizen currently representing a national Airline in United the Kingdom.

PM: “How can Air Malawi Cargo UK be contacted?

SM: “Our physical address is; Unit 7 x2 centre, Hatton Cross Heathrow airport, TW6 2GE. We can also be contacted on office numbers during office hours +44 2087 599 127 or through fax on: +44 2087 591 068 or by emailing us on [email protected] or [email protected] or alternatively I can be contacted 24 hours on Mobile number 07580 232 994. Our customers can also contact us via facebook or follow on Twitter. We’ll be always in touch even when we’re out of reach…”

PM: The final word?” 

SM: “I thank all Malawians who are supporting us and I implore all bonafide Malawians to support their own flagship Airline, Air Malawi so that one day we can conquer the world. Let us join hands in laying a solid foundation for the future generations. My word of wisdom is A Diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under pressure.” I pray to God that He guides our country to prosperity.”

 

*Do you have or do you know someone who has what it takes to be featured on One-One Interview? Please contact the host, Peter Makossah on [email protected] or write to: editor.[email protected]

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