Editorial: Forex, Fuel and now Maize?

Any Malawian asked to name the one thing that, whatever the case, should always be available, would name food. And in Malawi, food is synonymous with nsima to get which, one must have maize.

We could encourage our people to diversify eating habits, or to experiment with this and that, or we could even bring KFC and McDonalds to Malawi; but for the majority of Malawians, nothing beats nsima.

Malawians, in fact, handsomely reward anyone that ensures that this critical commodity is available. Without beating about the bush, making maize available 24 hours, seven days a week, from January to December; is what earned the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) a landslide.  This, and nothing else.

Grain shortages hits Malawi

Maize scarcity ought to a thing of the past, because Malawi is a “success story” in this respect; to prove which large entourages of people have traversed the world, lecturing and stockpiling degrees and professorial awards.

But is starvation a thing of the past? The answer is: no. Malawians are a very worried people, as we speak. Reports of maize scarcity in mother Malawi, even after the sharp upward adjustment of the price of this government controlled commodity, are now widespread.

On the positive side, unlike with the previous government, when donors failed to assist in time because government was adamant that there was no famine, President Mutharika has quickly acknowledged that indeed a crisis is afoot.

He has made some noises saying: “There is enough food, but let us exercise care. We should make sure that maize is available in affected areas,” – falling short of asking for assistance by a whisker. But the problem is that noise is all he has made, followed by nothing on the ground.

His uncle, who heads ADMARC, Dr. Charles Matabwa told the nation through ZBS this week that the country will not be able to move maize to the people who are starving in various parts of the country because of the serious shortage of fuel.

Now, when the man who is the national grain custodian and uncle to the president says this, it means trouble.  It is a death sentence to the masses of people who have no maize, hence the apprehension. If they find maize from vendors, they will be lucky to afford it.

Dr Matabwa’s information, coming barely a few days after the presidential decree to make maize available to all is disheartening. It proves the thoughtlessness of the chorus loved by DPP women and cadets that says “whatever Bingu says or orders, comes to pass”.

Analysing Dr Matabwa’s statement further, one can safely conclude that President Mutharika’s order was just yet another act of playing to the gallery on matters of national importance.

One could conclude that ADMARC has no maize in stock, despite surpluses recorded over the years. Why this conclusion? Because ADMARC, like any supplier, can only supply what it has and it cannot supply what it does not have.

If this conclusion, God forbid, is true, then Malawi should brace for the worst – the fuel and forex problems were just a dress rehearsal. While dad is napping on a fuel queue at a filling station, mum will be sleeping at ADMARC or travelling very long distances to search for grain – more or less like early man, yet we are in the twenty first century and have shifted the sun to the middle part of the national flag!

For fuel, the government says it has almost resolved the problem. According to authorities, this will be history once fuel reservoirs – a stupid oversight on the part of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) governments – have been constructed.

Unfortunately, the blame game cannot work for maize. The MCP government constructed silos. The Mutharika administration has also added some. Since in the case of fuel, the government wants us to believe that lack of reservoirs is the main culprit, and given that granaries for maize already exist, one wonders what sort of contradictory explanations will be churned out.

As for Dr. Matabwa, he had better learn to be careful with his statements. His explanation that fuel shortages are affecting the delivery of maize could be reasonably construed that he is telling the nation that his nephew married a no good liar.

Didn’t the first lady tell us the other day, that people in the rural areas do not give a hoot about fuel? Was this not echoed by several ranking officials and even reputed analysts? So what is Dr Matabwa saying? Whatever it is, we will leave it at that.

What the government needs to know is that, by hook or crook, it has to ensure that maize is readily available from Chitipa to Nsanje, Mangochi to Mchinji, as of yesterday because maize is a matter of life or death.

The government should stop politicking, but start immediately moving maize across the nation before people start dying. People dying of hunger would be yet another and stronger motivation for mass demonstrations and hungry people, everyone knows, are angry people.

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