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Maize smugglers thrive as desperation deepens

For as little as K100 (28 US cents), some police officers are selling their souls and that of hungry Malawians to the devil.

With the K100 bribe, some officers open roadblocks and the Malawi’s borders to allow illegal maize exporters smuggle the staple grain into Mozambique and Tanzania even as the product’s shortage pushes prices above poor Malawians’ reach and into starvation.

This is happening on the back of a government ban—which police are supposed to help enforce—against maize exportation after poor harvests last season.

The ever-rising prices of the commodity, which have shot to over K10 000 (about $28) per 50kg bag, provide a grim backdrop to the smuggling business that is verging on the suicidal for Malawi.

So far, Nation on Sunday has established that Songwe Border in Karonga and Muloza in Mulanje are the most porous—both through official routes and unofficial ones—according to interviews with some people living around the areas and agents who facilitate the smuggling.

Nation on Sunday investigations have established that there is a network of vendors who facilitate the process of smuggling the maize through the official border and illegal outlets such as Mpholiwa Bridge in Mulanje.

A fee is paid at all outlets. On both Malawian and Mozambican sides, the fee goes to some law enforcers.

Stephano Chalenga, who said he helps people smuggle maize into Mozambique, claimed that some law enforcers at Muloza receive K100 per bag to allow bicycle vendors to pass through the border with maize.

Once they cross into Mozambique, he said, traders part with K50 per bag to bribe cops on the other side of the border for a smooth path to markets where maize is an expensive commodity.

Chalenga, who thought he was speaking to a potential ‘client’ trying to smuggle the maize when Nation on Sunday approached him, said some “big vendors” buy maize from Limbuli Market, less than a kilometre from the border, and take it into Mozambique on vehicles after “conniving with border officials”.

Crossing the border

One of the vendors, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is a ready market in Mozambique.

“With your 100 bags of maize, bwana, you will have to pay K50 for each bag to police officers on the Mozambican side and another K50 each for a bag for the canoe man to get the bags across,” said Chilenga when a Nation on Sunday reporter pretended to have maize he planned to smuggle into Mozambique without passing through the border.

Dan Midule, who works at a restaurant at Limbuli Trading Centre, said: “If you want to take your maize through the border, it is not a problem. It is a daily routine. There are some boys who specialise in that. They connive with the security officials who they pay K100 per bag.”

He gave us names of the agents, some of whom we talked to and who confirmed the process of smuggling maize through the border and other unofficial outlets on a truck or on bicycles.

Midule said it depends on the choice of the trader and quantity of the maize. He said bicycle vendors carry three bags per trip until all bags are smuggled into Mozambique.

“If you want to use a vehicle, you can come here on your pickup truck or lorry. The driver and other agents talk to the border officials before they take the maize to the border. After negotiations and paperwork, they go and drive the vehicle and it just passes through the border without being searched,” explained Midule.

‘We arrest smugglers’

Muloza Police officer-in-charge Davies Kasiteni said police arrest maize smugglers, but people still find their way to smuggle the maize since the border is porous. He denied that police get money to allow maize into Mozambique.

Mulanje Police officer-in-charge Christopher Chiwanga said police in the district have arrested many maize smugglers. He could not provide statistics because, he said, he did not have the figures handy.

In Karonga, Steven Simwaba, from Iyembe, Kaporo, who claims to be the ruling People’s Party (PP) constituency governor for the area, accused some police officers at Iponga Border Post of taking bribes to allow illegal maize exporters cross into Tanzania.

“The police here are tarnishing the image of ba mama bithu [our mother], President Joyce Banda. The country does not have enough maize yet these law enforcers sell their souls to the devil and allow smugglers to deprive the country of maize. People say it is the President’s fault, which is not true,” said Simwaba.

In January, some Karonga residents clashed with police at Rukuru Roadblock along the Karonga-Songwe Road after they accused the officers of corruptly allowing trucks with maize to pass through to Tanzania, according to media reports.

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