HARARE – Zambian president Michael Sata, who has offered grain to Zimbabwe for next to free, faces a revolt at home for adopting measures which could increase hunger.
An admirer of President Robert Mugabe’s often violent and chaotic land reforms, Sata has agreed to give grain to starving Zimbabwe on easy terms which could see Harare taking delivery without paying a cent upfront.
Zimbabwe is facing grave food shortages with over a million people in urgent need of aid.
But back home, a decision by Sata to slash a key food subsidy threatens to hit the poor, stoke inflation and spark a popular revolt against his government.
Reports from Zambia indicate that Sata has torn up his own populist political playbook by announcing weighty maize subsidies will be scrapped.
He introduced the subsidies when he came to power in 2011 but now argues scrapping them would lead to “real economic and well distributed growth” as well as save the government much-needed cash.
Yet, this could also come with dire costs for the populist and at times brash Sata, reports say.
Famously, a 1977 decision to scale back bread subsidies in Egypt prompted riots that killed nearly 80 people.
The army was deployed to restore order and the policy was quickly rolled back.
Zambia itself saw serious food riots in 1990, which helped push the government from power.
The backlash this time round has been prompt, but, for the moment, non-violent.
In Zimbabwe, food riots in the late 90s caused massive headaches for Mugabe.
Some Zambians are already plotting against Sata after the decision to scrap subsidies. Thirty-four-year-old Mooya Chilala, an unemployed father of two, is reported to be lobbying for the removal of Sata from office.
“I have many dependents and with this increase all I can ask my fellow Zambians is to remove this government from power,” Chilala is reported as saying. – Staff Writer