Drivers in Malawi are spending all night in long lines at fuel stations in hopes of filling their gas tanks as the country struggles with a weekslong fuel shortage.
Elizabeth Lingala runs a restaurant business in Blantyre market about six kilometers from her home in the Mpemba area. She said she stopped using her car Monday after a futile attempt to buy fuel at a pumping station.
“For example, last Sunday, I went there at 4:30 a.m. but up until 10 a.m., I had no fuel. And I had to leave that place. I am a woman. I have to take care of children. I have a home to run. I can’t stay five hours at a fueling station waiting for fuel, which did not even come that day,” she said.
Users also flooded social media with reports of some people being robbed of their phones and other property, and cars being broken into while motorists waited in line for fuel at night.
Fuel has been in short supply in Malawi for about two months.
Authorities say this is largely because of foreign exchange shortages, which affected the loading of fuel for Malawi at the ports in Beira, Mozambique and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
During a press conference over the weekend, government authorities failed to give clear answers to when the problem would end.
Henry Kachaje, executive director for the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority, said he hopes the situation will start to normalize from mid-November if efforts to source foreign exchange are achieved.
These include the $60 million the government said has been sourced to buy fuel.
“We also have some assurance that negotiations that have been ongoing with one international financier, are almost complete and one that comes on board, the National Oil Company, which is responsible for managing strategic oil reserves, will have adequate resources to help restock the strategic reserves,” Kachaje said.
In the meantime, those in need of the commodity the most have been buying fuel from the black market, where prices are more than double the pump price.
To end the problem, the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority has suspended permits to buy fuel in bulk using jerry cans, saying many people were abusing it by purchasing fuel only to resell it on the black market.
Now, those who use generator sets are carrying their gadgets while waiting in line at gas stations.
Humphrey Mvula, a Blantyre-based analyst on good governance, said foreign exchange problems could have been avoided if President Lazarus Chakwera had not ended a financial assistance agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after taking power in 2020.
The Chakwera administration canceled the agreement, known as an Extended Credit Facility, over an allegation that the former administration of President Peter Mutharika falsified documents to the IMF on the administration of the ECF funds.
“The only unfortunate thing is that they decided to cancel the ECF to correct a problem before they had established other means of generating forex. Or before they had introduced contingency measures that would curtail excessive use of forex,” Mvula said.
He added that the only solution for Malawi to resolve the foreign exchange issue is to embark on programs that would increase the country’s export base rather than the current situation, where the country is heavily relying on imports and debt.