/ 26 November 2022

Dearth of foreign currency drives Malawi’s fuel shortage

The fuel shortage in Malawi began a month ago, driven by an acute shortage of foreign currency that meant fuel couldn’t be imported.

Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera cut short his visit to Egypt for this year’s international climate negotiations.

In a social media post, Malawi’s president said he had been moved by the chorus of booing and jeers that followed his convoy on the way to the airport to fly out to Egypt. The country’s motorists, furious over having to queue for days to pump fuel, had had enough and were making sure he knew.

The fuel shortage began a month ago, driven by an acute shortage of foreign currency that meant fuel couldn’t be imported. 

Malawi’s main foreign currency earner, tobacco, has been tanking in line with the decline in smoking around the world. 

But tobacco is only the most prominent casualty of a long-term economic malaise for a landlocked country that relies on imports. 

Petrol, officially $2 a litre, has been going for $5 a litre on the black market.

Frank Siyabi, a taxi driver in the capital, spent two nights at a filling station several times during the crisis. His vehicle, his livelihood, has run out of fuel on the road a number of times.

He accused the leadership of the country of lacking compassion. “We have a president who is travelling all the time. He is draining forex which should be used for the procurement of crucial imports.”

Chakwera’s return didn’t solve the fuel woes. But, a few days later, several tankers did arrive to ease the crisis. The National Oil Company of Malawi said the shortage of foreign currency meant the core problem had not been solved.

On Tuesday, the government fired the oil company’s chief executive, Helen Buluma. She said she had been subjected to relentless pressure from senior officials in Chakwera’s administration to grant fuel contracts to select companies, creating profitable monopolies. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.