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High cost of living triggers demonstrations in Africa

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-23 09:32

People demonstrate in Nairobi, Kenya on March 20, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Africa experienced demonstrations on Monday in four countries over high cost of living and economic challenges, a development that experts said indicates a growing trend of disconnect between citizens and political elites.

Citizens of Kenya in East Africa, South Africa in the south, Tunisia in the north and Nigeria in west Africa, went to the streets, all led by the opposition parties, protesting high cost of living, economic challenges, and election results dissatisfaction.

Chitanga Gideon, a research associate at the African Centre for the Study of the United States in South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, said the protest shows there is some discontent over socioeconomic and political conditions in different African countries.

"The underlying factor (to the protests) is the failure of the governments to provide for socioeconomic needs of their citizens," he said.

"It is predictable that these economic challenges will have the potential to result in instability in future."

Chitanga said the situation was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation and the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Benedict Wachira, the secretary-general of Communist Party of Kenya, said while the citizens have the right to hold demonstrations, they must be aware that the rising cost of living is not a national but a global issue.

He said the rising costs of living have been caused by the poor international policies of the United States and NATO's aggression in Russia.

"In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, the US printed dollars, causing inflation, which was absorbed by all countries across the globe," he said.

"The world can never pay for that inflation, so the US has deliberately started reducing the number of dollars that it is printing and in circulation — the reason for the shortage of dollars and the high cost of living."

Macharia Gaitho, a veteran journalist and political commentator, said the demonstrations will put the governments on their toes.

He said Kenyan political elites have not kept their promise of addressing the problems affecting the citizens.

Macharia said their economic interventions seem to be for the benefit of the wealthy rather than the low-income earners.

'No quick fixes'

"The high cost of living is a global issue, there are no quick fixes but the current government has no plan on how to address it. The policies being put in place discourage investment," he said.

Macharia said higher taxes might see industries relocating from Kenya to places where there is a less inclusive tax regime. He said the government should instead offer incentives to manufacturers, such as tax holidays. The government plans to increase tax collection to $20.7 billion in the 2023-24 fiscal year, according to the Treasury.

X.N. Iraki, associate professor at the University of Nairobi Faculty of Business and Management Sciences, said politicians are adept at riding on national anger as witnessed in the countries where demonstrations were held.

"It does not matter if the economic problems are caused by external factors, such as the war in Ukraine or drought, the opposition leaders will package the problems as being caused by leaders," he said. "These external factors make leaders 'feel helpless'."

Iraki said leaders must address the key national issues from economics to national anger, to preempt such demonstrations.

"A well-articulated road map would deflate the anger. Leaders gain power to solve national problems, they can't escape that," he said.

Ndumiso Mlilo contributed to this story.

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