He dreamed of being a professional basketball player. That wish was never to come true, but nonetheless destiny would lead him to great achievements. Salimo Abdula became one of the best-known faces in African business around the world. In an interview with Villas&Golfe he talks about Mozambique’s economic and social arena and about Business Confederation of the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries [CE-CPLP]) of which he is currently chairman. He tells us of business associations, business and confesses to not having any intention to one day return to politics or to be the president of Mozambique, because his world «is the business community». He owns one of the most important Mozambican groups, Grupo Holding Intelec. He is a chairman of the board of Vodacom Mozambique, among many other positions. He is a businessman. But more than all this, in the work Vida e Visão Empresarial de Samilo Abdula [Samilo Abdula’s Life and Business Vision], which also mentions here, you can find out even more about his career.
How is the climate of confidence within the CPLP?
It is true that we are going through some troubled moments in the world economic arena, to which CPLP countries have not been indifferent, but at the moment, from the point of view of economic diplomacy, and judging by the work we have been doing, we are optimistic and, therefore, we believe that the climate is good. Today you can see in the speeches made by CPLP leaders the emphasis of debate has shifted to freedom of movement, creation of an economic market and reduction of bureaucratic barriers. This encourages us and makes us more confident, given the harmony between political decision-makers, diplomats and entrepreneurs, in the creation of an economic market of our community.
Has there been interest from new observer countries? From which ones?
Yes, the CPLP has many strengths, it is one of the communities of the future, considering the potential it has in various sectors. We know that in 2018, for example, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Serbia and Luxembourg became member-observer countries of the CPLP. This demonstrates the interest in our community.
«In two decades, the CPLP is expected to be responsible for 25 to 27% of global energy supply»
What are the major interests of these countries in the CPLP?
In sectors such as Energy, Tourism, Agriculture and Industry, which is certainly where we have the greatest potential for growth. For example, in two decades, the CPLP is expected to be responsible for 25 to 27% of global energy supply.
Do you think that in the future the CPLP will be one of the most powerful communities in the world?
I think these figures already say it all. I think it only depends on our boldness, unity and focus. According to the IMF, if the CPLP were a country, it would be the 6th largest economy in the world. We have huge potential in terms of land, water, sea resources, fauna, sun and beach for tourism, hydrocarbons, etc. If we structure all this potential in a united, strong and cohesive economic market, then yes we can achieve this goal.
What are the strategic advantages of CPLP countries with relation to other countries?
The CPLP represents 3.5% of the World GDP; 16.3% of the planet’s fresh water reserves; 5.48% of the world’s Sea and Maritime Platforms. Three CPLP countries are in the Top 10 of the largest hydrocarbon discoveries on the planet. For example, at a time in which there is much debate in the world about the future of the energy sector, the sources and resources of which are beginning to run out in important deposits in the world, the CPLP is as an important player for the future.
«According to the IMF, if the CPLP were a country, it would be the 6th largest economy in the world»
Do the countries of the Portuguese-speaking community have strong common strategic goals, in the world, or are they very much looking inwards?We were united by language, culture and history alone. But today, and with our work, we can say that economically we are already looking at a cohesive and strong growth as a community, and not only at our own issues.
Does it make sense that there is political commitment for the CPLP to assert its position?
At the moment, yes, but there is still so much to do, in order to smooth out the edges, to eradicate a certain jealousy, prejudices and ambiguities that have only slowed down our growth as a community!
Will the current CE-CPLP board achieve its main goal of freedom of movement of people, goods and capital?
We are working towards this end and the results are visible and we can see in some actions that, albeit timidly, they are contributing towards this goal being achieved. You can see that, for example, mobility within the CPLP, with regard to entry barriers and the elimination of visas, has improved considerably in the last five years. It still isn’t much, but it will certainly improve.
What are the main barriers to building the CPLP’s free movement community?
The slowness in political decision-making and some slowness resulting from the natural process of change and the resistance to this very change.
Is language the greatest advantage in the Portuguese-speaking community area of action?
Of course, it is one of our greatest advantages. Language represents one of the greatest business costs, but not in the CPLP!
«The people have chosen the path that offers them more guarantees of growth and sustainability, and hopefully this will be the case»
What is your opinion about the future of the CPLP?
I look forward to a bright future for the CPLP, the result of all the potential that we have and that I have already mentioned in previous answers. But everything depends on our commitment to seeking the longed-for consolidation as an economic community.
Why did you decide to be chairman of the Business Confederation (CE) of the CPLP?
My arrival as head of the CE-CPLP came about very quickly; I can even say that it caught me by surprise. At the time (2013), the CE-CPLP operated under a regime of rotating leadership, among the CPLP member countries. It was Mozambique’s turn to head the organisation for two years. In the first of Mozambique’s two years, it was the Industrial Association of Mozambique (AIMO), through Dr Carlos Simbine, who chaired the CE-CPLP. In the second year it was the turn of the Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique (CTA) to preside. The CTA appointed me to the post. Everything happened very quickly. By the time I realised it, I was already chairman of the CE-CPLP. In 2014, the CE-CPLP started to operate under an election regime and a four-year mandate. My colleagues proposed that I stand as a candidate and I was privileged enough to win unanimously. We are now in the second mandate, which began in 2018. In short, it was a challenge that I accepted because I believe that with my professional and life experience in association formation, and with everyone’s support, I would be able to contribute to a stronger CPLP economically.
And Mozambique? Do you believe in a new economic phase?
There is potential for this. The country has mineral resources, arable land, sea and other potential to develop sectors such as tourism. If this economic phase is based on the diversification of the economy and not just on major projects, as we tend to think, I think that yes, we can have good results and lead the country towards development.
Is there hope for a new Mozambique? Can the recent past be quickly forgotten?
What past are you referring to? If it is the 16-year war, I think the country has already recovered a little from the losses of that war, although the marks are still there and the people can still feel the pain of it. But the way is onwards and upwards and I think that much has changed since the end of the war to the present day. Today we have more schools, hospitals, roads and an environment that is minimally acceptable to do business in. Poverty exists, but the tendency is for it to be eradicated, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
With finance clinched for major projects, will Mozambique change the development arena?
That’s the projection and we hope so, but I’ve always believed that we can’t rely on just one source of income. We cannot think that major projects will be the solution for everything. We must continue to invest in sectors such as agriculture, tourism, fishing, among others. In short, we must diversify the economy.
Is there a chance that people might be tempted to rekindle corruption hotspots, disruptive to development?
This will always exist, even in more developed communities, but it is everyone’s duty to fight it.
Mozambique went to the polls and strengthened its confidence in the government. Do you think that this is another vote of confidence that civil society has given the government to move forward with the strategic outlines of its programme?
I think it is the people’s vote of confidence, and, as they say, the people are sovereign. I believe that the people have chosen the path that offers them more guarantees of growth and sustainability, and hopefully this will be the case.
Mozambique’s foreign currency reserves are at their highest point ever due to gas taxes. Is this just the beginning of the consolidation of growth?
I hope so. But it is important «not to count our chickens before they hatch» and, as I said, we cannot think that gas will solve all our problems of growth. We need to invest in other sectors and diversify the economy. We have to be competitive.
«We cannot think that gas will solve all our problems of growth»
What are the strategic outlines for Mozambique to assert itself as a country and in the world?
Diversification of the economy. Political and social stability. Investment in education, infrastructure, mobility and innovation.
How has it been head the Intelec Holding Group and the Business Federation of the CPLP at the same time?
It has been a huge challenge. It requires effort and dedication but, fortunately, I have a work team that allows me to entrust tasks and be sure that they will be carried out. A good leader must know how to delegate and, with humility, trust in the capacity of people. Only then can we bring Intelec Holdings and CE-CPLP to a successful conclusion. However, these are not the only duties I have. We can add here: Chairman of the Board of Vodacom Mozambique, Honorary Consul of Malaysia and others in the associative and entrepreneurial world, the result of my background in entrepreneurial association formation and of some shareholdings that I have in other businesses.
What is your favourite sport? Do you play golf?
Basketball. I had the dream of being a professional player, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible. Golf is another sporting passion of mine.
Don’t you think that Mozambique, as a tourism-focused country too, should invest in golf and in quality resorts?
Maybe it should, but, then again, maybe it shouldn’t. We have some good resorts, but we need to increase their quality. But first, we should do a market study and see if we have real potential to attract tourists through golf. I think we do, but we should do a study to make sure, so as not to make investments in the dark.
How did you become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Mozambique and even in all of Africa?
With hard work and a lot of dedication. It’s all recounted in the book Vida e Visão Empresarial de Salimo Abdula, written by my friend and journalist André Matola. Some people may think it was easy, but it never was. I have always striven to be involved in business associations, to contribute to the improvement of the business environment in my country and now in the CPLP, and things have been happening naturally until we reached this stage. The book describes my career in more detail.
Do you intend to return to politics and one day become the President of Mozambique?
No! My world is the business community, but life teaches us that we can never say that we will never be this or that. My entry into the business community was also unexpected, just as it was in politics. But I think I have gained a lot of experience in politics and I use that knowledge to better understand the political and business world. But surely returning to politics or being President of Mozambique isn’t part of my goals.