Friday 11 October 2019


With 8.5 million people facing serious food shortages next year, the discovery that some senior state officials are profiteering by importing 17,000 tonnes of grain at double the world market price is the latest blow to the diminishing credibility of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government.

Africa Confidential understands that the grain was brought in from Tanzania – Mnangagwa and President John Magufuli are allies – at a price of US$600 a tonne; the world price is currently $240 a tonne. An expert in the regional commodity trade said the only explanation for the inflated price of the consignment is a 'vast corrupt rake-off'. Now the keys question are, says the expert, who knew about the deal and who benefited from it.

Senior officials in international organisations have confirmed the pricing of the deal and say it helps explain the slow response to the United Nations' call for emergency funding to alleviate Zimbabwe's food shortfall. It comes as relations between the government and Western states falter again, after a brief improvement following the ousting of President Robert Mugabe in November 2017 (AC Vol 58 No 25, A martial mind-set).

Although the main cause of the food crisis is the drought which has hit most countries in the region, corruption and mismanagement are making it worse. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates at least half Zimbabwe's population of 16.5 million are now 'food insecure', a staggering failure in a country that was the breadbasket of southern Africa.

Those at risk in Zimbabwe are not far short of the 9.7m needing food aid in all the 17 countries of the Sahel and West Africa combined.

Nor is Zimbabwe's crisis confined to the rural areas where 5.5m people are food insecure. Another 3m in towns and cities also face chronic shortages. At the start of the crisis it was estimated that it would cost $300-500m to feed 7m people; now another $100m will be needed.

Some 800,000 tonnes of wheat and maize may have to be imported to avert disaster. This doesn't include the grain needed to keep farm animals alive: up to half of all cattle could die in some areas. In July, some agency estimates suggested Zimbabwe would need 1.3-1.4m tonnes – 850,000 tonnes of white maize, 350,000 tonnes of wheat and 80,000 tonnes of soya and cooking oil. That includes animal feed.

But trust in the government is low. A WFP 'flash appeal' has so far secured pledges of only about $150m: $89m from the United States, €9 mn ($10m) from the European Union and £50-60m ($60-75m) from the United Kingdom.

If money can be raised for emergency imports, there are still big logistical challenges that increase the risk of starvation. Zimbabwe has enough grain to support its population for the next three months. Drought has affected the whole region, so most imports will have to come from outside Africa. Africa Confidential


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