On Monday 18 April, The East African predicted that the Ugandan protests over food and fuel prices would spread throughout the East African region. As if on cue, Nairobi erupted with similar protests yesterday.
Uganda and Kenya present parallel cases where inflation has led to public outcry for support from the government. Unlike Uganda, which has thus far refused to adjust taxation rates, the Ministry of Finance in Kenya announced on Monday that it was lowering diesel taxes by 20% and kerosene taxes by 30% to help ward off rioting. This tactic proved unsuccessful. Why?
One explanation could be the current climate in the greater African continent. Tunisian protestors over fuel prices earlier this year managed to topple their government. Egyptian protesters ousted a Big Man who was predicted to serve for life. More recently, movements in Burkina Faso have led to a reshuffling and concessions from a previously closed regime. Kenya is known for both relatively fair electoral process and violent protests. The Government of Kenya likely offered the reduction in fuel taxes in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the post-election violence that occurred in 2008. Unfortunately, this concession could be seen by protestors as a sign of weakness. The Kenyan government is already known for being relatively open to pressures from public outcry. Demonstrators are likely hoping for even more concessions on taxes from the government.
Meanwhile, Uganda presents an opposite case. The Government of Uganda has historically been allergic to protest movements, using brutal police force to stamp out any form of demonstration immediately and without recourse. In addition, Uganda is ruled by a popularly elected Big Man who is widely revered for “saving” Uganda from its history of dictatorship and economic stagnation. Opposition movements that are spearheading the protests in Uganda hold little political clout at the polls, indicating that the opposition is both unorganized and lacks widespread support from the public. The Government of Uganda is fully aware of this and aware that it cannot deliver on its development promises while lowering taxes.
Regardless of demonstrations and government taxation, there is a perfect storm looming on the horizon for the East African region. The spike in fuel prices and a drought have led to the present inflation in food prices. The drought conditions that occurred during the normal rainy season for the Horn of Africa from November to January has led to decreased availability of food-stuffs. If this unique combination of conditions persists, the entire East & Horn of Africa Region could face a very “lean” summer.