Kenyans voiced fury on Thursday at a jump in fuel prices, which threaten to pile on the misery for a population already suffering economic hardship because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fuel prices are now at record levels after the country’s energy regulator this week put an end to subsidies on petrol, diesel and kerosene that were introduced earlier this year to ease anger over the surging cost of living.
The East African economic powerhouse has suffered huge job losses as gross domestic product shrank last year for the first time in three decades, with Covid-19 battering usually strong sectors like tourism.
The scrapping of the subsidies, which took effect on Wednesday, increased the price of petrol in Nairobi by about six percent to a maximum of almost 135 shillings (about $1.20 or 1.00 euro) a litre.
And the cost is set to rise further with the introduction of a near five percent excise duty on fuel from October 1.
“The increase in fuel is just ridiculous, it shows that the government is not in touch with the reality on the ground, how do they want us to survive,” said James Mwangi, 42, a second-hand car dealer in Nairobi.
“Any increase in fuel prices means an increase in many other things.”
Mercilyne Njeri, 35, who works at a five-star hotel in Nairobi, says she is already trying to survive on 60 percent of her usual salary.
“The government is not realistic, you cannot increase fuel prices at a time we are suffering from tough economic times brought about by Covid-19 challenges.”
Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, who is in open conflict with President Uhuru Kenyatta, criticised the decision, warning it will lead to a higher cost of living across the board.
“This is mistaken in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, calling for the energy ministry and parliament to address the issue.
‘We Can’t Breathe’
The Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) warned of a huge hit on the economy -– “high cost of production, surge in food prices, transport and overall, a higher cost of living”.
“The foreign direct investments as well as consumer purchasing power will be driven south for a struggling economy reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
Kenyan consumers pay several taxes on fuel, which account for the vast bulk of the price charged by pump operators.
Kenya’s GDP dropped to 10.75 trillion shillings ($98 billion, 83 billion euros) last year and the economy also shed 738,000 jobs, with informal workers such as small traders and artisans bearing the brunt of those losses.
Kenyans are still living under restrictions including a nighttime curfew to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The disease has infected almost 245,000 people in the country including almost 4,950 fatalities, according to official figures.
“Covid made our lives so miserable and now the fuel prices increase has made it even worse,” said 27-year-old Kevin Mwanzia, an electronics technician.
“We simply can’t breathe, the public transport fare will increase, commodity prices will also increase. How are we supposed to survive?”