Government "won't budge on food prices"

News and Press Release
Originally published

KAMPALA, 3 May 2011 (IRIN) - The government of Uganda will not reduce taxes or consider food subsidies, despite an increase in violence that has led to a "national crisis", according to the UN.

Minister of Information Kabakumba Masiko said the consistent government line since the "walk-to-work" protests began on 8 April still stood, though she maintained other measures were in place to address stability in the East African country.

"On the supply side, we are ensuring there will be enough food for our people," she said. "The Bank of Uganda is also mopping up the excess currency that is contributing to the inflation."

Opposition politicians and critics have blamed the lack of food and fuel reserves as contributing to skyrocketing prices.

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, inflation jumped another 3 percent last month, reaching an annual 14.1 percent in April from 13.1 percent in March, while crop inflation rose from 29.1 percent in March to 39.3 percent.

The demonstrations against the rising cost of living have been led by opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who has vowed protests will continue [ ].

On 29 April, riots broke out across the capital, Kampala, and five other centres across the country, killing at least five people and injuring hundreds more.

"We just woke up angry," said George Lubwama, 27, a barber in Kasubi, where one person was confirmed by Red Cross officials to have been shot dead after live rounds and tear gas were used by security forces trying to dispel angry rioters.

The epicentre of violence in the city, Kisekka market, was taken over early in the morning by an elite military group led by President Yoweri Museveni's son - journalists were reportedly barred from entering the area and threatened.

The height of the violence was widely seen as a protest against the violent arrest of Besigye the day before. Security forces smashed the former presidential candidate's car window and sprayed him directly in the eyes with tear gas after an hours-long standoff, after which Besigye was thrown into a police vehicle.

The footage of the brutal arrest on 28 April was widely circulated and has brought criticism from domestic and international human rights bodies alike.

On 1 May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the manner in which Besigye was arrested "shocking".

"The excessive use of force by security officers was plain to see in the television footage of the event. While I do not condone the violent rioting that followed, the Ugandan authorities must realize that their own actions have been the major factor in turning what were originally peaceful protests about escalating food and fuel prices into a national crisis," Pillay said.

Meanwhile, Ugandans continue to feel the impact of increased food prices following a sharp increase in fuel prices in the past few months.

A Kasubi taxi driver, Robert Kawuki, says the rising costs have severely affected his livelihood. "It's hurting me to the extremes," he said.

Lubwama added that the politicization of "walk-to-work" protests was hurting those most affected. "He [Museveni] is fighting Besigye, but the greatest rebel is the economy now," he said.