Though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a strengthening of solidarity and generosity in many communities, some people are turning to hoarding and profiteering as the crisis worsens.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in North Africa, the region faces another challenge: A couscous disaster is brewing.
Couscous is a staple in North Africa, with Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco all claiming the grain as their national dish.
As the number of novel coronavirus cases in the region continues to increase rapidly, Algeria’s more than 40-million-strong population is finding it more and more difficult to procure the staple grain, reports AFP.
Panic buying, hoarding, and profiteering are now rife in the country, leading Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune to make a statement reassuring citizens that the couscous apocalypse rumors are fake news.
Algeria’s couscous stores should last the population “for four or five months,” said the president. Despite Tebboune’s reassurances, the couscous wars rage on.
Fawzi, an entrepreneur living in Algiers with his young daughter told AFP: “I have never in my life bought a 25-kilo bag of semolina but I was afraid the situation would get worse and bakeries would close.”
“I had to pay 1,700 dinars (more than $13) for the bag instead of 1,200 dinars but I had no choice,” he lamented.
A couscous blackmarket and ever rising prices have taken over in Algeria, with more and more citizens panic buying.
The police and the government have tried, with little effect, to clamp down on the “unpatriotic” trend and have arrested more than 2,500 people for hoarding staples to sell for profit. Police have also confiscated over 5,000 tons of foodstuff from profiteers.
Tebboune urged citizens to report “all acts of speculation, monopoly and fraud” to the police.
Tunisia enters the couscous wars
The Tunisian president is facing the same challenges as Tebboune and has classed those guilty of hoarding, profiteering, or counterfeiting semolina as “war criminals.”
The underground couscous trade reached new lows on Tuesday, April 7, when Tunisian police arrested a state official in Kef, near the Algerian border, for using his influence to direct couscous and flour supplies to particular businesses for personal gain.
Morocco has, so far, largely avoided couscous turmoil thanks to the government’s efforts to clamp down on fake news and the spread of fear on social media.
From the start of the pandemic, Morocco’s head of government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, has made it clear that the state will not tolerate the dissemination of COVID-19-related rumors in an effort to curb the spread of panic and fear in the North African country.
The use of social media to spread fake news during the pandemic led the government to introduce new legislation designed to “fill the legislative vacuum the national legal system suffers to deter all behaviors committed on social media, such as the spread of false news,” according to Maghreb Arab Press (MAP).
Since the start of the pandemic, Morocco’s public prosecution has launched 81 judicial investigations into 58 citizens suspected of spreading fake news online.
In early March, Morocco’s Ministry of Trade and Finance assured citizens that the country has enough stocks to meet citizen’s needs during the Holy month of Ramadan, due to begin in Morocco on April 25.
The ministry also reassured citizens that it would carry out daily investigations at local markets to ensure that necessary products such as sugar, tea, milk, oil, and butter are available.
A special committee at the ministry sits regularly to assess the situation and intervene in order to maintain the stability of supplies in the national market and to prevent any possible virus-related disorders amid the outbreak, the ministry reassured.