FOR the past few weeks, the news networks and publications have been awash with all the talk about the mealie-meal shortages which seem to be worsening by the day.
Also on the rise are the unfortunate incidents of smuggling of the commodity which are alarming, going by the official figures of those nabbed and the mealie meal confiscated by the police.
The question on everyone’s mind is why the sudden flurry of commotion in the border areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as anyone, everyone with a semblance of capacity to smuggle the commodity in truck-loads or even on their bicycles are finding it irresistible to engage in this illicit trade.
From the grape-vine, and well, even maybe an open secret, a 25Kg bag of breakfast meal just across the frontier costs an average of K800. Compared to here at home where the cost is teetering between K150 and K170 respectively.
For any person who is business savvy and any businessman worth their salt in manipulating figures to their advantage, the scenario is one that is to die for, it is a lifetime opportunity which presents itself not too often, one you will cherish.
People are therefore ready to risk and bear the brunt in case they are caught in the very act of the illegal export of mealie-meal, even if the law as it stands, is very clear and forbids any form of smuggling.
What makes this trade immoral is also the fact that, here at home; it is leaving unnecessary gaps in the supply chain, causing biting shortages and price hikes.
Can this be a markets thing, which is caused by the DRC’s insatiable yawning market for Zambian goods or there is an invisible hand somewhere causing this anxiety for political expediency? Well, Yes and No.
The failure by the DRC authorities to sustain food security in their own country, has historically caused mixed fortunes for Zambia. With a shared border line of over 2,000kms and a population bigger than ours – four or six times over, the burden of feeding has meant that, they needed to look to us,
More often than not, Zambia has had to bear the burden of sharing the few resources planned for it’s population with the Congolese brothers across the border. Legally or otherwise, the trade has flourished for years. It was in times of fewer resources during droughts or floods impacting productivity that we felt the impact of the shared resources.
On a more positive note, this situation has always been a missed opportunity to increase production of food and goods to feed the Congo market. President Hakainde Hichilema has often implored Zambian businessmen to take advantage of that market to legally trade and exploit the huge gaps.
The current crisis, however, presents a myriad of other challenges whose dynamics are completely different from those that we have seen over the years.
Mealie-meal shortage in itself is not new to Zambia, and while this current issue is largely linked to the rampant smuggling going on across the border, it is imperative to interrogate what is possibly the driver of this crisis.
Are there economic indicators that are showing that authorities may have been lacking in their planning processing and forecast for this season? And the answer is a resounding no!
Are there some politically inclined players in the delivery chain who are deliberately frustrating government efforts to maintain sustainable food security in the country? Probably yes.
From what we hear from the authorities, Zambia has sufficient stocks to see us up to this harvest season’s crop to hit the market and ready for consumption.
As for the mitigation measures that have been put in place since this artificial shortage started, all should have stabilised by now, and yet, there seems to be a missing link in the whole chain which points at subversive activity. Sabotage!
While others may argue that this has been a somewhat perennial problem, the speed at which the Hichilema administration has moved with lightening speed in its crisis management is admirable, in fact, quite commendable.
You only need to see the numbers in terms of maize stock poured onto the market, and the mitigating strategies which have been employed, then you will get to appreciate that the shortage you have had for so long; that sabotage is at play, begins to show clearly.
The naysayers may want to argue that, this problem of shortage of maize stocks is normal, and for the purposes of giving them the benefit of doubt, I will reproduce, without attributing to the author of the analysis, a divergent thought process. And it goes as follows:
“Nearly in all the regimes, we have always experienced this scenario of mealie meal shortages, especially in the months between 1st January and 22nd April.
In the era of the Movement for Multi Party Democracy (MMD) from 1993 to 1996, I remember waking up at 04:00 hours going to Mwaiseni Stores for a week or two just to access one 25 Kgs bag of mealie-meal.
Eventually, the situation normalized after a good period of 90 days or six months.
During that period, we ate yellow maize.
In 2001 and 2002, still in the MMD era but under President Levy Mwanawasa, between January and April, we experienced a similar dry spell of mealie meal such that the President, was advised to buy Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) maize from South Africa and the United States of America (USA), but he refused.
We also saw the rise of Moses Katumbi and Katebe Katoto who supplied cheaper mealie-meal to Zambians in Chingola. At the time a 25Kg bag of the commodity was trading at K45, but Mr Katumbi sold his at K25.
This prompted LPM to venture into winter maize farming.
Under President Rupiah Banda, again, in the period between 1st January to April 2010, and in 2011, the mealie meal situation was bad.
When the Patriotic front (PF) assumed power, some pockets of food shortages were experienced but the then fast talking Chishimba Kambwili, then Information minister convinced the Zambians that the shortages were due to a global shortage.
During the PF reign under Edgar Chagwa Lungu, a bag of mealie-meal fetched between K165 and K185. Here is where everything got messed up because they mounted fake road blocks arresting only those who smuggled one or two bags. Some ministers and party cadres had fake passports allowing them to take mealie meal to the DRC without any problems. They made money as individuals and for their party.
The MMD blamed KK and UNIP, They also blamed the late Anderson Mazoka.
The MMD were also embroiled in the Carlington Maize deal and the merry go round went on”
And so, here we are in the New Dawn dispensation. As much as I have respect for peoples’ opinions, the narrative and dynamics point at one thing. This is to a large scale a politically motivated artificial shortage.
The writing is on the wall for all to see.
30,000 bags of mealie-meal destined for the DRC seized, 52 vehicles involved in the illicit trade seized and still counting. Does that not ring bells in you? If media reports are anything to go by, smuggling rings are using youths to clean shop shelves empty of the commodity.
While all this unfolds, some opposition politician somewhere is pushing the narrative that the Government of the day has failed, Really?
Maybe it is time that authorities clamped down decisively on these saboteurs. Slap them with an economic sabotage charge and throw them in jail and throw away the key.