Travel-phobe Magufuli extends Zimbabwe visit, offers grain

Tanzanian President John Magufuli is received by his Zimbabwean counterpart, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, on arrival in Harare, for his first official visit to Zimbabwe

Tanzania’s stay-at-home President John Magufuli has extended his visit to Zimbabwe and offered to sell some of his country’s surplus grain to the drought-hit southern African country, officials close to ongoing discussions said on Wednesday.

Magufuli, a stickler for fiscal discipline had – before his current sojourn to southern Africa – only visited four countries, all in the east African region, since his 2015 election. He is yet to attend the annual United Nations general assembly in New York and has only been to one African Union summit, in Ethiopia, January 2017. Magufuli has never attended a summit of the regional SADC bloc which Tanzania helped found.

Amid concerns that Tanzania’s foreign policy influence was waning under Magufuli, in stark contrast with the ‘liberation diplomacy’ espoused by his predecessors, Magufuli embarked on a rare trip to southern Africa. His regional tour took him to South Africa, where he attended President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration as part of a three-day official visit, as well as Namibia and now, Zimbabwe.

Although he was due to leave Zimbabwe just after lunch on Wednesday, officials say he had agreed to extend his visit by a day to continue talks on greater economic co-operation.

Speaking at dinner hosted by his Zimbabwean counterpart on Tuesday, Magufuli called for closer economic ties.

“For far too long, our relations have been dominated by political issues, with little attention given to economic matters,” he said.

“Our two countries have, therefore, agreed to consolidate our economic co-operation in order to give practical meaning to our political co-operation.”

Tanzania, with a sizeable maize surplus, has offered to sell some grain to Zimbabwe, which is looking plug a 700,000 tonne deficit through imports after a drought-hit 2018/19 cropping season.

Grain imports will exert more pressure on Zimbabwe’s already strained foreign currency requirements.

Tanzania lifted a grain export ban in August in anticipation of a grain glut from the 2018 season, although officials have recently tempered their projections after forecasts of dry

conditions in 2019 raised the need to stock up for what could be a less productive year.

With estimated annual maize consumption of just under 4 million tonnes, Tanzania has exceeded 5 million tonne production per year since 2012.