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Cash

Cash

| June 10, 2008

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation continues to fascinate me. I’ve seen photos of people getting trays full of change after paying for a beer in a bar. The money depreciates so quickly that Zimbabweans must spend their earnings instantly on items that hold their value better than the does beleaguered currency—which is pretty much anything these days. Apparently, […]

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Fees

Fees

| June 6, 2008

Even as the Mozambican police force is less corrupt than it was in the past, plenty of parties continue to demand “facilitation fees.” Prior to entering the port of Beira, truck drivers must clear their paperwork at a decrepit customs building just outside the gate. Some 20 young men are hanging around with no obvious […]

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Back on the road again

Back on the road again

| June 5, 2008

Traffic is light and consists mostly of trucks. We also encounter several overloaded busses heading in the opposite direction. “Mozambicans and Malawians fleeing anti-immigrant violence in South Africa,” explains Alex. At times, he pulls over to chat with a fellow Transcom Sharaf driver. Because Alex’s truck is the newest and most modern in the fleet, […]

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Who wants to be a billionaire?

Who wants to be a billionaire?

| June 4, 2008

The new Zimdollar is a note of 5 billion, not 50 billion as I wrote earlier. All the same, it means that Zimbabwe not only has the world’s best performing stockmarket, but also the greatest number of billionaires. Five billion Zimbabwe dollars equals US$2.50 today–probably half of that tomorrow. Have fun counting zeros when buying […]

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Slow-motion slalom

Slow-motion slalom

| June 4, 2008

The first part of our journey progresses smoothly. Malawi’s roads appear to be in relatively good condition. I mentioned that to Guy Harvey upon arrival in Lilongwe, but he just grinned. “Just wait until you get to Mozambique,” he said. But the roads on the other side of the border are just as smooth. “This […]

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Day-to-day

Day-to-day

| June 4, 2008

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 […]

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Cobs and robbers

Cobs and robbers

| June 3, 2008

We encounter our first police stop at the outskirts of Lilongwe, but the officer waves us through. Malawi police are relatively relaxed, and those in Mozambique have gotten much better as the country’s economy improves. In the 1990s, with memories of the civil war still fresh, the police in Mozambique were notorious for shaking down […]

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Alex

Alex

| June 2, 2008

Today, we will drive the first part of our journey, from Lilongwe to Tete, where we will spend the night near Mozambique Leaf Tobacco Co.’s leaf processing facility. Our cargo: 20 tons of Malawi burley from Alliance One, destined for Philip Morris Germany. To ensure their guest is comfortable, Transcom Sharaf has assigned me to […]

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Diesel

Diesel

| June 2, 2008

In addition to accelerated vehicle wear and tear, transportation companies operating in Africa incur another expense that their counterparts in Europe and the United States seldom have to take into account—fuel theft by drivers. The driver will stop and sell small quantities of diesel to villagers, who siphon it out of the fuel tank into […]

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Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe, Malawi

| May 30, 2008

Insiders quip that the transportation business will turn your hair fully gray by age 40. This prediction could of course easily be dismissed as one of those professional folklores that can be heard in any line of business where a heavy workload is common. But in transportation and logistics, premature aging actually seems to be […]

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Share your experiences

Share your experiences

| May 30, 2008

As I share my experiences traveling on a tobacco transport, I invite you to share yours using the comment function at the end of each post. It might require registration but shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. In particular, I’d like to invite employees of Transcom Sharaf to participate in this blog by sharing […]

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Thank you

Thank you

| March 3, 2008

Noel and I are back in the Tobacco Reporter office now, and this will be my last official post. I would like to thank you for joining us on this exciting journey. Your virtual presence added a whole new dimension to editorial travel We received many comments, suggestions and words of wisdom—both through the feedback […]

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Bloodbath

Bloodbath

| February 29, 2008

As the plane taxis toward the runway for the flight back to Miami, I reflect on our mission. While I learned a lot about the illicit trade from legitimate manufacturers, I didn’t manage to talk my way into a Paraguayan cigarette factory supplying the black market. That means I cannot report on the types of […]

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Meanwhile, back at the gate

Meanwhile, back at the gate

| February 28, 2008

Pablo tells me to remain in the car as he walks up to the gate. He talks with the guard, occasionally pointing in my direction. I am not sure how to behave. Should I wave, pretending to be a regular visitor, or should I ignore the two, as if I am preoccupied with the latest […]

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Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

| February 27, 2008

As I write these words, Noel and I are enjoying the evening sun on a terrace in Buenos Aires, hundreds of miles from the tri-border area. Described as the Paris of South America—but with palm trees—Buenos Aires is a far cry from the bedlam of Ciudad del Este. But contrary to what their appearances suggest, […]

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To the factory

To the factory

| February 25, 2008

Pablo motions for me to have a seat behind the counter of the money exchange booth and starts making calls on his cell phone. The director of the factory turns out to be in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital, and my new friend seems to be trying to track down somebody who can authorize my visit in […]

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Bedlam

Bedlam

| February 24, 2008

Today’s the day. I wash and shave like a holy warrior preparing for battle. But just in case divine protection is withheld, I also put on my running shoes. Under normal circumstances, I jog a respectable-but-not-spectacular 7.5-minute mile. With a gang of irate cigarette smugglers in pursuit, I reckon I could probably shave two whole […]

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Tired

Tired

| February 23, 2008

You’d think we’d know better after more than a decade of international business travel, but we’ve underestimated the size of Brazil and overestimated the number of appointments a person of flesh and blood can squeeze into a single workday. By the time we arrive at our hotel in Londrina, it’s 3:30 a.m. Our first appointment […]

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Doubts

Doubts

| February 23, 2008

As we get closer to Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian border town facing Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, I am starting to have doubts. When we first proposed investigating Latin America’s black market, I knew smugglers and counterfeiters would not necessarily welcome a pesky journalist sticking his nose in their lucrative business. But I also […]

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Staggering numbers

Staggering numbers

| February 22, 2008

This morning, I received an unsigned e-mail from a person who says he has studied Paraguayan cigarette production. The writer estimates 2008 cigarette consumption at 2.43 billion cigarettes. There are 50 licensed factories, and based on export activity, the e-mailer suspects that 32 factories are producing on a regular basis. Paraguay’s total production is around […]

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