Price hike triggers protests in Africa | International
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The rise in prices in Africa, especially gasoline and basic necessities, due to the war in Ukraine, with an inflation rate of over 14% in a dozen countries and runaway in many of them, according to the data provided by the governments themselves, is already generating the first consequences in the form of increasingly intense citizen protests. This instability puts executives with little room for financial maneuvering and social reaction in a context of global crisis, such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe or Ethiopia, between a rock and a hard place. In others, like sudá
, where inflation reaches an unheard of 245%, or in Senegal, the recent political demonstrations led by the opposition also have an economic background, of citizen weariness at the cost of living. Everyone looks askance at the riots in Sri Lanka.
President, where is our money? or “the high cost of living will kill us”. These were some of the slogans of the two days of demonstrations held at the end of June in Accra, the capital of Ghana, which ended with numerous disturbances, a hundred injured by the police response and 29 people imprisoned, accused of “incitement to violence”. Arise Ghana, the organizing collective of the protest, plans to continue with them in August. In response, the Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has decided to go to the International Monetary Fund in search of an aid package, thus breaking with the policy that he defended since he came to power. Inflation is around 20%, according to the Government.
“They are like waves that are rising everywhere and can grow out of control,” says Ivorian historian and researcher Dagauh Koneman, co-author of the book Youth in Africa, drivers of change, “no one imagined that the initial protests in Tunisia would lead to the Arab Spring. Well, this crisis is even greater because it is global and there is no perceived ability to react in Africa, either due to lack of will or limited possibilities to do so. In Zimbabwe, where the inflation rate reached 86% last May, the central bank has decided to start issuing gold coins on July 25, in an attempt to stop the loss of value of its currency.
In Sierra Leone, thousands of women and housewives took to the streets dressed in black on July 4 to protest the rise in basic necessities such as rice, oil, bread or sugar. In the midst of the police repression that used force to dissolve the protest, a dozen women were arrested, including the well-known opponent Femi Claudius Cole. Immersed in a deep institutional crisis, the protesters who take to the streets of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, to ask the military to leave power also bitterly lament the rise in prices of gasoline, electricity, flour or gas. The Sudanese pound has plunged amid unprecedented inflation. “It is impossible to buy anything in the market, we are heading towards the abyss,” says Hassan Hussein, a resident of Khartoum, by telephone. In Maputo, the Mozambican capital, bus drivers brought the city to a standstill for a day over rising fuel prices this July.
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The rise in prices began in Africa due to the commercial disturbances linked to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but the rates of around 10% at that time have already been far exceeded. The World Bank forecast 12% average inflation in Africa for 2022, but the continuing conflict in Ukraine is putting this estimate in trouble, which will be revised upwards. In stable Senegal, protests in March 2021 over the arrest of an opposition leader ended with 15 deaths and dozens of supermarkets and gas stations looted, something unprecedented in the recent history of this country. Last June, the protests and police repression returned, again violent, this time due to the exclusion of an electoral list in the legislative elections. “It’s not politics, it’s a deeper crisis, people are desperate,” says Senegalese economist Demba Moussa Dembelé.
For Koneman, “it is normal that protests intensify in countries with open electoral processes, because that is when the political class is most vulnerable and the population is most mobilized. But this has only just begun.” In his opinion, Africa’s enormous dependence on foreign products is at the root of the problem and Africa wasted the years of economic growth, interrupted by covid-19, to promote local products. “Nigeria is the world’s leading producer of cassava and its flour could at least partially replace wheat, but the reality is that the continent is highly dependent on grains and fertilizers from Russia and Ukraine,” she says. According to the United Nations, 44% of imported wheat in Africa comes from both countries. The African Union recently asked Russia to unblock its cereals to alleviate hunger and rising prices.
South Africa, one of the economic powers of the continent, reached an inflation of 6.5% last May, according to the Government, the highest in the last five and a half years. Transport, food, non-alcoholic beverages and fuel, with increases for gasoline of up to 10%, are the products that have become more expensive. Already in 2021, the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma generated riots that caused 337 deaths and 40,000 businesses destroyed. Now the economic situation is much worse. In early July, demonstrators blocked a major highway in protest at rising prices. Political parties, civil society groups and transport organizations have urgently asked the government for measures to relieve this pressure while the idea of a national strike begins to be considered.
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