BAT said it continues to face a wide range of challenges including currency volatility, high credit risk and hyperinflation. For the three months ended 31 March 2024, the company experienced a 21 percent decline in sales volumes compared to the same period last year.
Opinion & Analysis

‘Smokeless future, campaigns ominous for Zim, Africa at large’

FOLLOWING Phillip Morris International (PMI) chief executive Jacek Olczak’s recent announcement that “cigarettes belong in museums” – in remarks meant to shore up or propel his smoke-free products – quite a number of views and reactions might have arisen from this.

And coming at the backdrop of a record 294 million kilogramme (kgs) tobacco output last year, context of the just opened selling season or auctions, and another bumper harvest anticipated for 2025 as well as on-going debate about a possible ban on trophy hunting across Europe, these moves might certainly be ominous for Zimbabwe’s economy, Africa and other golden leaf producing countries at large.

In the moneyweb article on March 21, Olczak not only disclosed that they had invested $12,8 billion in “safer alternatives”, but probably sought to project PMI as a “peerless innovator and in markets such as South Africa (SA) – where it seeks to reclaim a share from competitors already commanding 70 percent of the cake”.

With these reinventions and survival strategies at risk from smaller players such as Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing, Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation and Carnilinx’s superior products, one hopes that PMI and its peers like British American Tobacco (BAT) will not seek to maintain profitability by using their alleged dirty tactics, including biased surveys and other smear campaigns as well as narratives against rivals.

As charges of underhand dealings continue to dog these multinationals – as evidenced by the lingering contraband allegations against them globally – these concerns also come against the background of an alleged “smuggling-operation ring or scheme” across the region. And this has not only affected the Zimbabwe-SA border of Beitbridge, but surely disrupts competitors’ businesses.

But despite a torrent of allegations against PMI and others worldwide, Africa’s mainstream media has routinely ignored these alleged malpractices. Instead, it continues to foment perceptions that are aimed annihilating ‘big tobacco’s’ competitors, their detractors say.

And this process has always included a carefully-crafted process of pulling wool, and blind-siding the public as well as governments to believe that “smaller companies were flooding the market with cheapies”, yet they are planted by the enemy anyway. By their own admission – contained in these self-sponsored surveys – these multinationals have lost market share to a measly 30 to 40 percent due to a number of factors, including uncompetitive and production-linked pricing methods as well as anti-smoking laws, and yet their surrogates keep besmirching competitors.

And these grand deception schemes even go as far as blaming SA’s economic woes, for instance, on “unremitted taxes and alleged fiscal prejudices totaling 100 billion rand!”

Hence, people MUST not only remain vigilant against the “weaponisation of these eco-friendly/green initiatives” as they are likely to affect farmers across Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe as well as decimate regional businesses, but also Africa’s welfare.

This, therefore, brings into question the public and governments’ awareness of the impact – and potentially devastating economic threats – of unfair competition, and practices of some of these western corporations like Olczak’s PMI and BAT.

As pointed out above, multinational companies even use influencers and other click-bait tactics to “galvanise public opinion against competitors, sustain hegemonic ideas and entrench unfair economic positions, which undermine local enterprises”.

Given the lack of depth and industrial base diversification of most continental economies, any knee-jerk or abrupt discontinuation of tobacco farming and beneficiation activities might kill off or affect quite a number of countries. As the dear reader might know, the 294 million kgs of product or crop that Zimbabwe realised in the 2023-2024 season, for example, translates into a huge portion of its export earnings (after mining of course).

Like the hunting debate and which is sweeping across many European parliaments, the current push by PMI and others might actually ‘choke the life’ out of many African countries that are highly dependent on these natural resources – and if the measures are implemented without due regard or careful consideration of their potential impact on weaker economies!

And considering Sri Lankan professor and Erasmus University lecturer Howard Nicholas’ 2023 remarks on how the west impoverishes us, it is crucial for people to “critically analyse these powerful entities’ “smokeless initiatives’” broader socio-economic implications on Africa’s future and its growth trajectory”.

As South African television channel eNCA says, it is time to: question, think (independently) and (only) act (accordingly or appropriately after considering all factors), especially about the continent’s interests and our tomorrow!

Bantu is a South African-based social activist and who writes in her personal capacity.

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