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West Africans Brace For Pricey Year-End Holidays

By Nico Colombant

West Africans Brace for Pricey Year-End Holidays, Looming Protests

Major holidays, Christian, Muslim and New Year's, are fast approaching, but for many in West Africa, higher prices on most goods mean the season is anything but pleasant. One economist says the situation reflects a very deep malaise in the difficulties of African economies.

A recent protest in Dakar called on the government to do something, anything about higher prices. There have been similar marches in Mauritania and Niger, as well as dead city protests in Ivory Coast.

One of the marchers in Dakar says the description of getting worse and worse are not enough to describe the price escalation.

He says it feels four times harder on meager pocketbooks than when the local CFA franc was devaluated by 50 percent in 1994. The euro-pegged CFA franc is used in most of francophone West Africa.

One of the frustrated shoppers at this windy market in Dakar is Ndiaye Maty. She says prices on some fruits and vegetables have quadrupled.

Sellers are also complaining. This butcher says his profit margins are way down.

On the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, a customer and petty trader haggle over prices.

The trader says he can barely afford to buy the small oil lamps he needs to light his small shack, which has no electricity. He says he is fighting for his life, and can barely find money to eat one meal a day.

Jacques Habib Sy, with the Dakar-based non-governmental organization Aid Transparency, points to several reasons prices are high and many Africans are having enormous difficulties.

One reason he says is the current strength of the euro on currency markets.

"The euro as it is becoming stronger and stronger so will the franc CFA," said Sy. "This means that the prices that we will have for our export commodities will be less and less competitive."

Looking over the past two decades, he says, reforms which reduced government services, at the same time as agricultural prices went down and markets opened up, led to widespread poverty.

"I think all these factors combined plus the lack of being competitive of these economies," said Sy. "None of them were fully prepared for that kind of massive competition, coming from all parts of the world, and now from China."

Despite repeated efforts, he says governments have been unable to create jobs for youths pouring into major cities. Many have been forced to become petty traders. When Senegal's government tried to ban street vending in November, the economist is not surprised riots ensued.

"You have seen the level of violence is unprecedented and that is what may happen time and again in different countries if governments are not careful enough to give it serious thought to the job sector, to the employment sector, a very serious thought and make headway," said Sy.

"Otherwise, if there is no progress, I am afraid all these young boys and girls will have no other resort but to use violence to be heard from their governments," he continued.

Back at a main square in Ouagadougou, one young woman says she cannot believe how prices keep on going up these days.

She says she is also very afraid of what is happening to society as, she says, many young women are turning to prostitution to feed themselves and their families.


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