JUBA: It is the talk of the town. You hear people lament about it in homes and on radio talk shows. It dominates discussions in taxis and public gatherings. It has become part of the greeting. The talk is all about ever increasing commodity prices.
Prices, especially for food, in Juba have kept soaring rapidly at alarming rates since the shut down on oil production by the government of South Sudan in February.
“I haven’t cooked food for almost two days now, because the money which was worth a day’s meal is almost nothing these days,” said Rebecca Gune, a widow with four children.
“Twice I went to the market, I couldn’t get enough food for the whole family, and I don’t know what we shall do to get food in the coming days,” she lamented further.
Gune, who survives on distilling and selling local alcohol, expressed her disillusionment that independence of South Sudan has not brought the glory most people hoped for.
“Before, there was the war, but we used to get consolation from the hope that things will change for the better. But look at what is happening now; are we to die of hunger in our own country? God knows where we are heading,” she said while fighting back tears.
A bottle of water of 600mls which used to cost one SSP is now 2 SSP, while the one litre bottle has risen from two SSP to three.
“I went to Konyo Konyo market to buy floor, the price was too much, when I moved to the next shop, I was told the floor was booked,” said a 27year old housewife, Margret Winnie Aketch of Buluk.
The pangs are also felt by traders. Some retail shops have stopped stocking some food stuffs altogether because people cannot afford it. This leaves even those who could afford desparate.
The traders blame the price increases on dollar scarcity and high transportation costs especially from East Africa.
“The cost of transporting one goat from Kampala is ten times higher than the cost of buying the goat from a livestock dealer in Kampala. What do you expect us to do?” said Haji Kaunia Kibirige, who is a livestock dealer.
The traders also allege that they are charged multiple taxes which increase their expenses.
Most of the consumer commodities are brought from Uganda through Nimule and are taxed by the central government, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equuatoria state governments.
In order to cope, some food vendors have responded by reducing the rations or size of food they serve to customers in their restaurants while maintaining the prices. In some cases, they have increased the prices.
Beans and posho a popular meal for most of those in the construction industry is now at 10SSP per plate up from four SSP. Moreover the quantities have reduced.
“I ate food of ten pounds but I feel like I have not eaten, in the past I needed only four SSP to eat and be satisfied, but now 10SSP is not enough,” lamented James Owino 23 after a meal at Freedom Square in Konyo Konyo last week.
Eesh or bread used to cost one SSP for three pieces, but the same amount now buys two pieces.
Chapati and beans, commonly known as kikomando by Ugandans, and is a popular breakfast meal among students and boda boda cyclists is no longer worth the cost.
“Chapati is now transparent, you can see the person seating across you if you held it up infront of your eyes. You need at least four of them to start the day,” Pitia Moses said.
People are so desparate that they want government to intervene.
Youssif Addil, a businessman who sells various commodities in his store in Jebel market attributed the commodity price increase to the high dollar exchange rate against South Sudan Pounds.
“You see, we use dollars to import these commodities from Dubai, and as you know, dollar is very scarce and expensive. So one finds himself at a loss if prices stay normal as before,” he explained.
Other services like medical treatments, transport, and many others are not been spared.
Although fuel prices have remained at six SSP at the designated fuel stations, getting it is almost impossible. Consequently, black marketers have taken advantage to maximize profits and are charging up to 25 SSP per litre. This has consequently affected the transport costs.
For instance fare from Juba to Rumbek has risen from 220SSP to 250. In town, the fares of boda-bodas have doubled in most instances.
The situation is not any different in other sectors of the economy with the contractors facing it rough to import building materials from the neighbouring countries.
“The prices of construction materials have gone so high. For instance, a bag of cement that was selling at 60 SSP is now SSP 100 SSP,” said Ronald Atiku, a site engineer at Jebel market.
“Let Government authorities be buying these commodities from East Africa then they sell to us the locals at an affordable price,” said one builder, Paul Manut, 22.
The situation has been made worse by the current fighting between Sudan and South Sudan because the latter used to import food from Khartoum, besides East Africa.
The director general for trade in the ministry of commerce, Stephen Doctor, said that the only solution is for south Sudanese to increase local food production.
”South Sudanese should start growing food. We have fertile arable lands and young energetic youth. This is the time for us to produce sorghum, and all the food we need. We can feed ourselves and the whole of the East African region,” Doctor advised.
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