Pauline Desmet | Head of Material Handling | 01 March 2022


Looking back a year on our Mozambique operations is a bittersweet affair for us at Alistair Group. Alistair Group has had an established presence in Palma town since 2012 and are proud employers of dozens of Palma residents. In March 2021 more than 88,000 people were displaced from the embattled Palma district. Locals, civil servants and foreigners fled as Islamic State-linked insurgents overran the coastal town. We were extremely lucky to get our team out safely, but many of our friends and colleagues were not as lucky.

Now, almost exactly a year later, the signs of the horrors are starting to wash away. With the help of 1,000 Rwandan troops, the Mozambican government has recently reclaimed Palma town and displaced citizens are starting to return. These events had a drastic effect on the Oil and Gas industry in Mozambique, subsequently affecting all major players, suppliers and third parties involved including ourselves. Pauline Desmet, our head of Material Handling based in Mozambique, reflects on the last year and how Alistair Group has been able to adapt.

1. How did the events in Palma affect Alistair Group as a business?
Since the inception of the attacks, we have tried to remain optimistic. Firstly from a psychological standpoint, we have continually looked ahead and planned for the long term value that Alistair Group can create as a company. Secondly, from a business management perspective, we believe that there is value in investing in “loss-leading” activities if we have a conviction that the result, in the long run, will be one of value creation. Alistair Group takes pride in our ambition to go where no one has been before and to make it work. After the attacks, and for the first time since inception, we were forced to scale back this approach.

The consequence of the Palma events resulted in Alistair Group losing out on a lot of our long term efforts as a company. Projects, investments and people who we believed would generate long term value for our organisation were suddenly removed from the equation. Irrespective, our focus as an organisation remains committed to adapting to the circumstances we are presented with. The medium-term macroeconomics of our industry remain positive and if Alistair Group consolidates effectively we will soon be able to revert back to the “long game” strategy.

2. How has Alistair Group adapted to these circumstances?
Alistair Group was forced to scale back to a ‘lean and mean machine’; hungry and eager to grab every opportunity that presented itself. To ensure we stayed relevant in the industry, Alistair Group continued to systematically train our staff in defensive driver training, appointed lifting person training, dangerous goods training and more. Although our team scaled down considerably we made a conscious effort to increase the skill-set of the remaining team; guaranteeing our ability to deliver the same quality of services.
These events reiterated the volatility of the Oil and Gas sector. It demonstrated that a sudden event can have massive effects on our business. To mitigate this from occurring again, we re-grouped and decided to move into new geographies, diversify our playing field and not limit ourselves to only Mozambique. Alistair Group’s material handling department is now expanding into Uganda and redeploying assets to Tanzania. We have been actively digging into new markets, such as the mining and construction sectors and also added cross-border work to our trucking fleet.

3. Where do we see ourselves a year from now?
In terms of Alistair Group’s material handling department, our passion and specialisation remain dedicated to offering support logistics services to the Oil and Gas sector. We believe there is a positive narrative within the East African region and we see Alistair Group as a prominent supplier to these Oil and Gas operations. Recently the FID on the Tilenga project in Uganda was signed and the project is set to kick off this year. Additionally, we see a major push for the start of the EACOP project in Tanzania and the prospects within Mozambique are getting more positive by the day.