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Multi-billion kwacha cigarette project stalls

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Two years after Malawi Leaf and Egyptian firm Eastern Tobacco Company signed a Memorandum of Understanding to initiate construction of a $9 million cigarette factory, the project is yet to take off, our investigations have established.

AHL Group Chief Executive Officer Evans Matabwa, whose company owns Malawi Leaf, confirmed the development in an interview Thursday.

News of the proposed joint venture between the two firms brought plenty of excitement among job seekers in the administrative capital in 2015 as they hoped they would stand a chance of getting a job.

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Matabwa said the project awaits the completion of high level talks between the Governments of Malawi and Egypt.

“We have done our part and we are waiting for a nod from our Egyptian colleagues,” Matabwa said.

The proposed joint venture was already offered land spanning over five-hectares in Lilongwe’s Area 25. The land is owned by AHL Group.

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Matabwa told The Daily Times in 2015 that the factory is expected to produce cigarettes of superior quality to be exported within the region and other international markets in the Arab world, Europe and Asia.

He said the proposed joint venture company would operate two factories, one for tobacco processing and the other for cigarette manufacturing.

“The processing factory will mainly take in raw tobacco bought from the floors and thresh it accordingly and in readiness for use in the cigarette making.

“This is similar to the level of processing which currently takes place in the Malawi tobacco industry. At the moment, our [threshed] tobacco gets exported to different destinations at this level,” Matabwa earlier said.

Discussions on the project, according to Matabwa, started in 2009 and various meetings have taken place since then.

In an earlier interview, Eastern Tobacco Company chairperson Nabil Mohsen said Egypt requires 85 billion cigarette sticks a year, presenting a ready market for the cigarettes to be produced in Malawi.

“Despite the anti-smoking lobby, we believe we are not going into a danger zone because Egypt alone consumes 85 billion sticks and this is a large market. Apart from that, we know that Malawi neighbours will also be importing the cigarettes because it will be relatively cheap and we are very excited with this project,” he said.

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