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East Africa reeling over high cost of food and fuel

posted 21 Apr 2011, 07:38 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 21 Apr 2011, 07:41 ]

People in East Africa are protesting the increase in food and fuel prices and calling on their governments to protect consumers from the high cost of living. But analysts say that with unrest in oil producing countries like Libya, an end to economic hardship may not be near.

High fuel prices and high food prices have seen consumers across parts of Africa take to the streets in protest calling on their leaders to help ease the cost of living.

Inflation rates across the east African region -- including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda -- have been rising in recent months due to increases in the cost of food and fuel.

In Kenya, protesters marched to the government's finance offices paralysing traffic for a few hours.

A recent poll showed most Kenyans see the high cost of fuel prices and food commodities as their biggest concern, relegating corruption and bribery which have been big worries in the past. The survey by pollster Synovate was released a day after fuel prices in east Africa's largest economy rose by 8.5 percent, prompting calls for public protest.

Pump prices are averaging at 1.5 US dollars per litre.

"We are protesting because prices of fuel, food petrol, everything is going up and it is affecting the common mwanainchi (citizen). We are saying, let the government intervene, let the government come in between and subsidise what is happening so that wanainchi (citizens) can be able to live comfortably. That is why we are demonstrating," said Leo Mutisya, a protester.

Analysts criticized a move by the treasury to check food and fuel prices by reducing Kerosene and Diesel excise duty by 30 and 20 percent respectively, as a solution that would take far too long to be felt by the ordinary man.

"We are ready to go all the way, and we are not going to be cowed, we are not going to be intimidated, we are not going to be bullied. We are going to use the constitution to get what is rightfully ours," said Dina Awora, a Social Activist.

Ugandan economic analyst Patrick Wakida says the current economic crisis is being felt worldwide and relief may not be near.

Violence in Libya, a key oil producer has seen fuel prices rise to record highs around the world.

But Wakida says, governments have a responsibility to cushion these effects.

"There are exogenous factors like the conflict in north Africa, those are oil producers, true they are there, but there are endogenous factors that are internal, how do you protect your country from such calamities in order to be called a good driver, if you fail then you are bound to be accused of failure to manage a country, what preparation has been there by the country," said Wakida.

Early this week, protests against high fuel prices in Uganda dubbed "Walk to Work" led by Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye, were disrupted by police and demonstrators arrested, including Besigye, a long-time political rival of president Yoweri Museveni.

Protests continued on Thursday (April 21) and demonstrators were involved in running battles with police.

Wakida says, Uganda's government has failed to show any effort to help citizens weather the harsh economic times.

"Why is it in Rwanda petroleum products are lower than they are in Uganda, why is it that Kenya can put percentage cuts on the fuel price and Uganda can not, what is happening to our country, that is the question every body is asking," he said.

Across the continent in Burkina faso, tens of thousands of people marched in Ouagadougou last week against the high cost of living. On Sunday, soldiers vandalised buildings and stole fuel in a continued protest over pay.