Soaring Prices And Inflation Incite Rioting In Uganda

As prices of consumer goods continue to soar in Uganda, unrest has hit different parts of the country in reaction to the impact felt by local businesses and citizens’ livelihoods. On Monday, July 25th, 2023 security forces in Uganda used teargas and other tactics to stifle a protest against high fuel prices in three towns, arresting more than forty people. TV footage of the riot showed clouds of teargas from exploding canisters fired by police, while security personnel, including police and soldiers, chased stone-throwing protestors and beat them with batons. 

In Jinja, an industrial city along the shores of Lake Victoria in southeastern Uganda, demonstrators set fire to tires and blocked roads before police dispersed them with tear gas, witnesses said. Police spokesman James Mubi stated, “It wasn’t a protest, the youths were instead robbing others, damaging properties, blocking roads, smashing vehicles, burning tyres.” Similar scenes played out in Kamuli and Luuka to the north of Jinja. Forty-one protesters have been detained and will be charged with inciting violence, robbery, malicious damage, taking part in unlawful assembly, and being a public nuisance, according to a police spokesperson. Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga claimed the demonstrators “want to use fear to promote violence, and it will lead to a vicious cycle of violence across the country if not stopped.”

Conflicts within a state, known as intrastate conflicts, tend to be the dominant form of conflict in the contemporary era. Many intrastate conflicts start off as movements seeking social, political, and economic change through nonviolent means and can be addressed via non-routine and non-violent politics. Motivations for these conflicts can include economics, resources, or in this case, identity. The Ugandan people are experiencing disarray and are seeking greater control over decisions about their lives and wellbeing. There is an incompatibility within their exclusion from political power which needs to be addressed by their government to prevent further violence from erupting.

The cost of fuel in Uganda has almost doubled since the start of the year. Many citizens have been calling for tax cuts to offset the impacts of inflation, but Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has refused, blaming high prices for items such as cooking oil, fuel, and wheat on the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the second time in a month that demonstrators had taken to the streets to voice their anger over the rising cost of living in a country whose economy has been hit hard by the recent transnational events. For a week, messages have been scattered around social media calling on Ugandans to stay home and stop paying taxes in a bid to compel the government to take action over the rising prices. But Museveni has said that cutting taxes or creating subsidies to try to resolve the crisis would only make the situation worse by giving people ‘artificial comfort’.

Ultimately, economic issues are certain to continue to have impacts on a transnational level. This conflict in Uganda has the potential to continue to escalate if the issues are not comprehensively addressed, as international circumstances have a large potential to continue to compound. The Ugandan government needs to properly identify and address the needs of their citizens and appropriately de-escalate the conflict. Once de-escalation is accomplished, they can move to negotiate, settle, and rebuild peace within the country.