COTE D'IVOIRE: Food price hikes spark riots

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

At least a dozen protestors were wounded during several hours of clashes with police on 31 March as they demanded government action to curb food prices.

“We have so far registered eight people wounded at the hospital in Yopougon and four others in Cocody,” said Thomas Kacao of the Ivorian Consumers Association (ACCI), one of the civil society groups behind the march.

The demonstrations took place in Cocody, where Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has a residence, and in Yopougon, a thriving area for shopping and nightlife.

Ivorian police used tear gas and batons to disperse protestors who were burning tires and overturning parked cars.

At the height of the demonstration, before riot police started firing tear gas, IRIN saw around 1,500 protestors chanting “we are hungry” and “life is too expensive, you are going to kill us.”

“A kilo of beef has increased from 700 CFA (US$1.68) to 900 CFA (US$2.16) in just three days,” one of the protestors, Amélie Koffi, told IRIN. “One litre of oil has increased from 600 CFA (US$1.44) to 850 CFA (US$2.04) in the same time.”

“We only eat once during the day now,” said another protestor, Alimata Camara. “If food prices increase more, what will we give our children to eat and how will they go to school?”

Kacao said the ACCI has recorded an “unending” rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs over the last three months. Some goods have increased by as much as 30 percent and 60 percent from one week to the next.

“When women go to the market they don’t stop complaining about how much more expensive things have become,” he said. “Today, with 2,000 CFA (US$4.80) they cannot buy enough food to feed even a family of five,” Kacou complained.

Marcellin Kpangui, who has formed a new civil society organisation called No-to-the expensive-life, said the cause of the food price hikes in Cote d’Ivoire is rising petrol prices that are being passed on to consumers.

“We have called on the government many times [to do something] but we have the impression that no-one wants to give a response on this issue,” Kpangui said.

IRIN’s requests for comment from the Ivorian ministry of commerce, to which the Kpangui’s NGO had addressed its criticisms, were declined.

But a member of the commerce minister’s cabinet told IRIN, “I think the government will intervene by making a television announcement to calm things down,” he said.

Yacouba Fandio, a taxi driver in Abidjan said he like many people in the city are interested in taking part in protests but have not done so so far. “Many times we hear that a protest will take part against the cost of living but it has been called off at the last minute. Next time a demo is called, the turn out will be so huge [the government] will have to listen,” he said.

The World Food Programme says high global fuel prices coupled with an increased demand for food in wealthier Asian and Latin American markets and an increased demand for bio-fuel are behind food price rises around the world.

So far the worst instability resulting from high prices has been felt in West Africa, which is where many of the poorest countries in the world are found.

In Senegal and Mauritania the high price of imported wheat and rice products brought people onto the streets in late 2007.

Protestors again clashed with police in the Senegal capital on 30 March, prompting the police to temporarily take a television broadcaster which was reporting on the clashes off the air.

In Cameroon protests against food prices in late February turned violent and in Burkina Faso this year there have been food riots in all the major towns in the country in which hundreds of protestors have been arrested.

Source: IRIN