Prices for Agriculture produce have remained stable, where as there is an increase for fuel, soap and cooking oil. Internet photo.

On Tuesday 22nd March 2022, Hon. Matia Kasaija, the Minister for finance, planning and economic development issued a media statement on Uganda’s rising inflation, explaining that the current hike in commodity prices are due to forces external to the country, temporary and that government on its own, can do little to deal with the problem.

Shocks in prices for essential goods and services in Uganda are currently being experienced for cooking oil, laundry bar soap, fuel, education services and transport fares. Recent report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) released in February this year showed that price changes until end February 2022 represented an increase in headline inflation from 2.7% in January to 3.2% a month later. 

Hon. Kasaija, who spoke with authority on behalf of Government as the Minister charged with the monitoring and supervision of Uganda’s national economy, as well as allocation of resources to mitigate market shocks like inflation – therefore a key source for the media, expectedly calmed tensions saying the public should desist from panicking as the current spike in prices is temporary and affects only few commodities. 

In Kampala, retail prices for laundry bar soap doubled to more than UGX 7,000 from UGX 3,500 previously, currently cooking oil sells at a minimum of UGX 9,000 per litre, up from UGX 4,500, while prices of petrol have kept above UGX 5,000 consistently for three months in a row. This pinch in people’s pockets is heightened by the recent impacts of COVID-19 and Government’s lockdown measures to contain the virus.

Media reports on inflation shape much about the perception and reaction of the public towards price changes, and news consumers rely heavily on this information to make daily decisions on spending, based on the intensity and tone of the news coverage. For Paul Busharizi, a senior business journalist with the New Vision, media reports on Uganda’s current inflation has mostly been alarmist and less about the actual facts. 

“Maybe we (the media) are being a bit alarmist, not everything has increased in prices and for those specifics like cooking oil, there are some external factors that caused that. From what I have seen in the newsroom, this inflation is kind of imported. Oil prices have gone up globally and we know the ripple effect of oil on all other products. My feeling is that this is temporary and it’s not going to lead to a consistent trade of price rising, as long as government does not run out of control with its expenditure,” Busharizi said. 

Speaking during the Wizarts Spaces, Dr. Fred Muhumuza, an economist at Makerere University, who is widely quoted by the media in Uganda because of his expert knowledge and opinion in the field, reasons that normally, inflation affects the poor people more vulnerable and less resilient to prices changes unlike the rich that have more room to adjust and accommodate the increase in prices for basic commodities. 

Inflation as measured by UBOS in February 2022, shows that the most affected areas with a big increase in prices were observed within the education services (9 percent), furnishing and household equipment (9.6 percent), restaurant and accommodation (3.2 percent), clothing and footwear (2.5 percent) and then personal care, social protection and other miscellaneous goods rising by 4.6 percent.

The impact according to Julius Mukunda, who is the Executive Director of Civil Society Budgetary Advocacy Group (CSBAG) means that there’s better returns for speculators who hoard goods and profiteer from artificial supply shortages that drives-up prices for essential commodities, Mukunda argues that this continues to widen the inequality gaps within our society for the vulnerable poor.

Hon. Kasaija on Tuesday warned speculators, saying some of the current inflation may be increased by their actions, yet he remained unclear on what exactly government can do for Uganda’s economy that is run purely by market forces of demand and supply. However, Busharizi argues that what the public needs to worry more about, is the accuracy of figures reported by the media from government sources. 

“What government reports are normally the official figures. In many times, the figures they report are a lagged figure; the research was done a week and some days ago and they are reporting it now. So, the situation could have changed now. So it would be useful for a journalist to go down on the streets and talk to actual people who have been affected by the price increases to understand how this has changed their lives,” Busharizi said. 

Dr. Muhumuza argues that government should ensure stable exchange rates to manage the current changes in commodity prices in the country. Government according to Ministry of finance, has taken some measures to help the economy from the adverse effects of COVID-19 and the current inflation, including regulatory and policy interventions, although the Ministry argues they can do little to control market shocks spilling from the international markets. 

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