Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 12:01 EAT on Wednesday 6th July 2022.
Higher fuel prices and the rising cost of basic commodities like food, sugar, and gas are altering lives – many Ugandans have begun to forgo many purchases including the smallest luxuries.
In a tweet on July 03, 2022, retired Assistant Inspector General of Police Asan Kasingye lightheartedly summed up the newer realities of the harsh day-to-day commerce, and how they are forcing citizens to make painful choices.
“Due to escalating prices of fuel, I have taken a painful decision of establishing an office at my residence. I will, however, wake up, put on my suit, warm my car, reverse it, honk and then park it again. This ritual will herald me to the office and ensure my consultancy work.”
Kasingye, who lives in Entebbe in the central district of Wakiso, first set up a consultancy office in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb. That meant he would have to drive 64 kilometres to the capital Kampala, each day, to work and back home. Kasingye is not alone.
The majority of Ugandans are bearing the harshest brunt of the rising inflation. According to data released recently by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), there was a steady rise in the cost of goods including food and non-alcoholic beverages, transport fares, personal care, social protection and miscellaneous goods, furnishings, household equipment and routine household between April 2021 and April 2022.
And according to the June 27, 2022 data published by the Global Petrol Prices website, Uganda has the highest cost of fuel in the East African Community (EAC). According to the site, fuel in the EAC countries averaged about Shs 5,625 in Uganda, Shs 5,372.095 in Rwanda, Shs 4,990.594 in Burundi, Shs 4,830.085 in Tanzania, Shs 4,857.825 in Kenya, and Shs 4,412.949 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
To cope with the biting inflation, many families and other institutions are forgoing some purchases and luxuries. Some have parked their cars and scaled back on food purchases. Interviewed for this article, several people said they can’t survive on a weekly stipend of Shs 50,000.
From mid-March 2022 to date, most commodity prices have shot up. Laundry soap shot from Shs 3,500 to about Shs 7,000 – 8,000, fuel climbed to Shs 6,300 from Shs 3,500, maize flour climbed from Shs 1,700 to Shs 3,400, etc.
Asked whether she can survive on Shs 50,000 a week, Carol Asiimwe, who lives in Seguku, Wakiso, said, “If I am to be very frugal, Shs 50,000 can only push me for three days. I have two children who need to eat breakfast, lunch and supper. A 3/4kg of meat costs about Shs 10,500, which we eat for supper for two days. I thank God I had stocked up on some spices and cooking oil because I would have turned to boiled food already.”
“Frying is now expensive. Tomatoes worth Shs 5,000 can push us for three days. For lunch, I buy cooked food for Shs 5,000. I share that for lunch with my two sons every day. I buy rice for supper. A kilogram of rice costs Shs 4,000. This can push us for three days (supper). If their father is around, we even spend more. Add the cost of the boda boda ride to take and bring children back from school. I still have to go to my workplace and back. Things are not good,” she said.
Charity Atwine, who lives in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb, said, “Our currency needs deliverance becauseShs 50,000 is completely nothing. Here is a breakdown of my daily expenditure; transport Shs 25,000 (using a boda), breakfast and lunch Shs 15,000, dinner Shs 8,000. That brings the total to Shs 48,000.
My monthly expenses are about Shs 1,440,000. If I use a car every day, my daily expenses would soar to Shs 123,000 and Shs 3,690,000 a month. Please note that I am not even adding monthly water and electricity bills or medical bills. We are surviving by God’s grace,” Atwine said.
Moureen Nayebare, a resident of Ggangu Busabala, said Shs 50,000 is too little to feed her family.
“I am the sole breadwinner in a family of three children. Shs 50,000 can last a few hours. When you buy necessities like rice, posho, and soap that is when you realize that Shs 50,000 is nothing. Right now a bar of soap costs Shs 10,000 and a piece costs Shs 2,000. By the time you are done shopping you realize Shs 50,000 is nothing…!”
Emmanuel Kasozi, a spare parts and tyre dealer at Kisekka Market said, “Shs 50,000 used to sustain me for two days. I used to leave Shs 20,000 at home and spend Shs 30,000 on fuel that would take me for at least three days. Shs 50,000 can’t take me beyond a day now. I don’t leave money for emergencies at home anymore. I still have to buy charcoal, sugar, food, and soap. My daily fuel has increased to Shs 30,000…”
Felly Lydia Akullu, a student at Makerere University, said, “Before the economy tightened, Shs 50,000 used to take me for 10 days. On a normal day, I spend Shs 15,000. A plate of food with beans costs Shs 3,500. Lunch and supper make that Shs 7,000. I cannot eat beans every day because I have to balance my diet. I have to buy data and pay for transport. It has become unsustainable. I have decided to start cooking effective this week,” Akullu said.
Daniel Putan of Kansanga, a Kampala suburb, said, “Shs 50,000 can only sustain me for three days if I include meals and transport to and from work. Since I stay alone, I rarely cook. I just buy cooked meals. I have restricted my daily expenditure on three meals to Shs 10,000. I spend Shs 20,000 on transport for three days between Kansanga and my workplace in town…I have light meals, especially snacks.”
Benson Agaba, who lives in Kibuli and works with GTC Security company at Mukwano Shopping Arcade in downtown Kampala, said, “Shs 50,000 is not enough to sustain my family. It can push me for five days if we are very frugal. I now walk to my workplace and then board a taxi on my way back because transport to and from my place is Shs 6,000. In a week, that comes to Shs 42,000. I skip lunch. I eat chapati and beans, which cost Shs 1,000 for supper.”
Francis Keeya, an insurance agent, said, “I slashed my daily home budget from Shs 30,000 to Shs 20,000. I am the sole breadwinner at home. I have a wife and two children. I spend Shs 50,000 in two days. I leave Shs 10,000 with my wife in the morning. I also return with necessities like food worth Shs 10,000 in the evening. I spend Shs 15,000 on my daily transport. We eat only posho, beans, and groundnuts.”
Aridina Rora, a boutique owner at Sky View Plaza in downtown Kampala, said, “In this crisis, Shs 50,000 cannot last two days. Things are too expensive. It is worse for me as an expecting mother. I have funny cravings and food is now costly. I spend Shs 30,000 on food some days because I want to eat whatever crosses my eyes. I spend Shs 6,000 on transport between work and home. If I go to the market with Shs 50,000, I buy matooke, fish, and Irish potatoes and that will be it. Matooke worth Shs 20,000 and Irish worth Shs 10,000 can push us for four days since we are four at home.”
Moses Ddumba, a dealer in ladies’ bags said, “From home to my workplace, my boda boda transport has shot to Shs 6,500 from Shs 4,000. I have decided to switch to taxis. I wake up by 6 am to beat the morning traffic jam. Taxis charge Shs 2,500 for the same route, which is fairer. Shs 50,000 can only take me for three days.
My heavy breakfast costs Shs 6,000 and lunch is Shs 5,000. My daily transport is now Shs 5,000. I have to buy internet bundles to promote my products online but there’s no money. The Shs 50,000 is already spent.”
RELIGIOUS LEADERS SPEAK OUT
Ashraf Zziwa, the spokesperson of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, said Muslim clerics are hit hard too. He said he needs about Shs 100,000 to run his home in a week.
“The more the economic crisis bites, the fewer offertories we collect from believers in mosques. The little money we get we share with the needy and the cleric leaders. Since we are not generating any money and most of our activities are run on offertories most of our activities have been halted. I hope the government and other major stakeholders can intervene.”
Asked what Shs 50,000 can do for him, Zziwa said, “In the past, Shs 50,000 would run my home for one week but as I speak, all commodity prices have gone up. The price of the cheapest food, posho, has increased from Shs 1,500 to Shs 3,500 per kilogramme. When you add other necessities, Shs 50,000 can no longer sustain me for a week.”
Reverend Esau Bbosa Kimanje, the parish priest of Namugongo Martyrs Church of Uganda, said, “The church is in the same boat with the Christians. Many believers have abandoned driving their cars due to the high fuel and food prices. Life is hard, given that we have just come from the Covid-19 lockdown where many believers lost their jobs. The situation is very dire. The amount of offertories has reduced. Whenever people’s earnings are affected, their culture of giving is affected…”
“Government should come out quickly to resolve this issue because the problem cuts across the world butthe crisis will throw us into economic turmoil,” Bbosa said.
The bishop of Kamwokya Church of God, World Ministries Solomon Mukonjo said, “I feel bad that some of our leaders run to government for help. It should be the state to come to us and ask what is affecting us. I wish church leaders don’t run to the
government and allow it instead to come down and address our concerns,” Mukonjo said.
“We are deeply affected by this crisis. Someone who used to bring Shs 20,000 now brings Shs 10,000 or less…” he said.
Julius Bigirwenkya, the senior pastor at Pillar of Fire International Ministries in Nakavule, Wakiso district, said, “High prices have affected the offertory church members contribute. Offertory collections have reduced since most people lost their jobs during the Covid-19 lockdown and for those with jobs their salaries have been slashed. Our offertory collections have dropped to about 50 per cent.
We had envelopes of Shs 100,000 and over 50 people would ‘plant their seed’ but as of now, people who take envelopes have reduced to about 10. Tithe now comes in installments,” he said.
Dr Francis Mwesigye, the chief economist at Uganda Development Bank (UDB), said, “Away from the Russia-Ukraine war, which has disrupted the supply chain, the bad harvest from the ending farming season has also greatly affected the economy. Our over-dependence on rainfed agriculture was affected by climate change. Our food baskets received less rain, which affected the yields from the gardens.”
To address the challenges, Mwesigye recommended the uptake of short, medium, and long-term solutions.
“For the short-term interventions, we have seen the Bank of Uganda making some interventions with the Central Bank Rate. The government has also increased budget support for producing short-maturing crops like beans and maize whose prices have increased the most.
The budget allocation shall boost the production of food commodities, which could also address cases of food insecurity” he said. For the medium term, Mwesigye recommended increased investment in the production of water for agriculture.
“We have to drop our over-dependence on rain for agriculture. As the country grapples with climate change, irrigation is a necessary game-changer. Irrigation shall guarantee a stable supply of food commodities on the market since it is not affected by seasonal changes. This shall help farmers avoid the repeat of seasons like this
one where low yields have been registered across the country”
In the long term, Mwesigye recommended a structural transformation of the overall agriculture sector. This, he said, could reduce the vulnerability of people to any shocks.
“We should maintain only able people in the agriculture sector. Those who are not serious about agriculture should be encouraged to move to other sectors like manufacturing. Labour should be deployed where it is best skilled,” he added.