Tanzanian President John Magufuli has urged his ministers to “take advantage” of refugee crises and make money by selling food to international aid organisations.
The country hosts around 300,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, largely in three camps in the north-west of the country, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Speaking in Dar es Salaam, Magufuli celebrated the signing of a contract to deliver 36,000 tons of maize to the UN World Food Program (WFP) for around Sh928 million ($9.1 million).
“These funds are allocated to help our refugee friends from other countries in conflict, it is our duty to take advantage of them,” said Magufuli in Swahili, to laughter in the room.
“We must take advantage of their problems. They fight at home and we get the money.”
Magufuli, known for his sometimes abrupt and controversial statements, has earned some international respect by fighting internal corruption but global donors have raised concerns about human rights abuses.
Critics say Magufuli has unleashed a wave of oppression since his election in 2015, cracking down on opposition figures, the media and gays.
The European Union, Tanzania’s biggest development partner, and the World Bank recently took measures to sanction repressive policies by Magufuli’s government.
After his comments in front of ministers and WFP representatives led to some snickers and giggles, the president tried to qualify his words: “I do not say that I wish they fight, but if they fight, that their conflict is a source of profit for us.”
“Because even if we do not give them food, they will fight. We do not want them to fight, but if they fight, let’s take advantage of it,” he clarified.
Magufuli called on the agriculture ministry and other services to seize possible business opportunities.
“The market is there: if the WFP even asks for 200,000 tonnes, hurry up and buy from producers and give to the WFP,” he said.
Tanzania sold 31,000 tons of maize to the WFP in 2018, according to the agriculture ministry.