A conversation with Eng. Guilherme Duarte


A conversation with Eng. Guilherme Duarte

'My desire is to stay in Africa because contributing to this structural change is priceless. It is not about telling the story, but being part of it.'

Tell us a little about your professional career.

I am a Civil Engineer by training, with a specialization in Project Management from Chevron’s headquarters in Houston, USA. I have 33 years of experience. I worked in the main companies and industries in the telecommunications, heavy construction, mining, railway lines and ports sectors. In VALE’s railway tracks alone, I have worked for almost 15 years, having held technical positions and administrative management. My specialty is the management and implementation of highly complex financial projects. Three years ago, I accepted the challenge to leave Brazil, initially for Mozambique, as infrastructure and contract manager for the Port of Nacala and, from September 2019, I took on the highly complex projects in Malawi. Currently, I am responsible for the main contracts for General Cargo Engineering at Nacala Logistics (VALE’s Group) and for project management, with an obstinate search to create a risk-free and accident-free work environment for the teams. I also try to make an agile management in decision making, technically robust and assertive, regarding physical and financial planning.

What are the greatest enticements and difficulties of this challenge?

The company’s main value is: “life first!” therefore, the biggest challenge, and the most motivating, is to manage, mitigate and eliminate the risks to which we are exposed. It refers to raising safety standards, prevention, control and risk management to very high levels. Regarding project implementation, the challenges are mainly the dozens of bridges over dry riverbeds, which in the rainy season can completely fill up in minutes, and drag vehicles and people. Logistics is also a big challenge, as almost nothing is produced in Malawi, we have to bring everything from outside, including experienced professionals. Railway tracks are in a state of profound degradation, due to lack of proper use and maintenance. Since we are in Africa, living in such a different culture is also challenging. The social differences are huge. We face peculiar and specific problems, especially cultural and communication issues. There is a significant barrier concerning the language, due to local dialects. Not to mention political issues, there is still everything else associated with a third world continent: many restrictions on service providers, uncertainties in product deliveries, contract conditions, etc..

What projects are now undergoing and what direct effects have the pandemic had?

We are rehabilitating the North Line, which connects southern Malawi to Zambia, with 400km of railway tracks. We are building the new Penga Penga Bridge and rehabilitating 16 bridges in the Limbe-Nkaya Corridor, with construction and structural reinforcement projects developed by BETAR. We have already rehabilitated more than 80 bridges and we are completing the construction of the new railway bridge over the Shire River. In Limbe, we are building a New Container Terminal to improve cargo transport logistics for Mozambique and Zambia. Additionally, we are developing a feasibility study to increase the load of another 24 bridges. The impact of the pandemic was massive. At the end of March 2020, Malawi’s Government issued a statement notifying that only life support activities and services would be allowed to continue. All projects were stopped until the end of July. With the time needed for a new mobilization, we were only back on track in September. The impact on the schedules was enormous.

How has it been working with BETAR?

I met BETAR when I was at the Port of Nacala, in Mozambique. There were many works in progress and the BETAR team arrived to support planning and control. When I arrived in Malawi, BETAR was already doing the technical inspection, mapping and monitoring of Health Safety and Environment items. We ended up adding the objective form of management that I practice to the concepts of that team. It is a company whose mindset is very focused on technical quality, without neglecting project management, as well as monitoring safety aspects. It became a major partner for Nacala Logistics in Malawi. All preliminary studies, feasibility analysis for load increase, execution projects and structural reinforcement projects for bridges, are developed by BETAR. We have an extremely professional and reliable relationship.

What is planned for the future?

We are developing the aforementioned feasibility study for increasing the load on another 24 bridges on the South Line. And there is also a project by the Government of Malawi to expand the rail network to the border with Tanzania. We strongly believe in the development potential of Malawi, and the countries of southern Africa. My desire is to stay in Africa because contributing to this structural change is priceless. It is not about telling the story, but being part of it.

This interview is an integral part of Revista Artes & Letras # 126, December 2021
Partially automatic translation from portuguese: some expressions may differ from their actual meaning.

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