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Day-to-day

| June 4, 2008

The popular crowd

Trucker is a popular profession in Africa. Not only does it pay comparatively well, it also offers drivers an opportunity to run all sorts of businesses on the side, such as smuggling cigarettes, transporting passengers and diverting fuel.

A representative of a Zimbabwean trucking company tells the story of one driver who didn’t bother to collect his salary for 1.5 years because the other opportunities that come along with the profession were so much more lucrative.

Besides, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation would have rendered his salary worthless almost instantly. The money that bought a four-bedroom house last year might not even buy an egg today. This month, the Zimbabwean government introduced a Z$50 billion banknote—about 45 U.S. dollars.

Obviously, transportation companies would prefer drivers focus on the activity that they are paid for—driving. Some estimate fuel theft accounts for 10 percent of total consumption. Carrying passengers, meanwhile, presents a liability risk. If a truck is involved in an accident, the trucking company will be held responsible for any injured passengers.

It also increases wear and tear. Truck cabins are designed to hold two people, not 12.

Malawian truckers passing time while waiting to unload tobacco

But it’s difficult to stop the side businesses. Hitching rides is a way of life in Africa, where the distances are long and few people own vehicles. And fuel diversion is simply seen as a way of helping make ends meet.

The Zimbabwean trucking official says that, in order to operate here, you must understand the African mentality. With life expectancies as low as 37 years, many Africans live from day to day. They simply don’t have the luxury of long-term planning or worrying about tomorrow. In such an environment, the little extra money earned today outweighs the prospect of still having your job next year.

The trick, he says, is to work the system in such a way that there is enough room for drivers to steal fuel, while still allowing the trucking companies to make a profit.

Category: Out of Africa

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