A Different Kind of “Occupy”: Morris’ view on the riots in Uganda, and the rising prices behind them
November 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This man has believed in my work in Africa when I didn’t believe in it myself. He told me I was creating change when all I could see was a mess. He has seen my work as huge when it was still very, very small. And, he has become one of my dearest friends.
I’ve yelled at him in the marketplace. I’ve laughed with him on long skype phonecalls baking cookies and drinking coffee in my kitchen while he’s sitting in his cement floored room in the back of a local school house. He’s argued with B over who was black and who was brown (I think she got louder and won – he’s black – or was it purple? And she’s brown). We’ve laughed so hard together we couldn’t breathe. I’ve done a few banana dances on the roadside that he was privy to. And, we’ve cried together when we’ve heard stories from people we were watching suffer in ways we were not big enough to reach in and change.
Today, I’d like to share Morris’ thoughts on the riots in Uganda, and the change he hopes they will bring about for his people.
Me: Describe for me what it’s like to be caught in the middle of a protest.
Morris: Its not a nice thing at all! In most cases they begin peacefully then when the police comes in, the events turn violent. I remember this one time I was in my hostel room at school, protests against the high inflation and fuel prices was going on, it turned violent, police fired tear gas into the crowd, so people began running around and seeking refuge in the near by houses. Unfortunately they (police) even fired teargas into the people’s houses including the hostels. Scenes of people collapsing, the wounded, people losing property like phones, handbags, etc.
Me: What does a meal usually look like for you?
Morris: Normally a meal consists of rice, tubers like cassava, sweet potatoes, matoke + beans, groundnut stew known as binyeebwa – we sometimes have meat, but it is considered a luxury. Note that its normally either rice and beans or binyeebwa, or cassava and beans or binyeebwa, or posho and beans, but not a variety of those in the same meal. And its normally the same kind of food daily for me – and I never bore of it!
Me: Explain to me how you feel, as a Ugandan, about walk to work and other protests.
Morris: I strongly support the protests because this is a way of our raising voices on behalf of the many who are quietly suffering the effects of inflation, high costs of living, especially food and fuel. Unfortunately none of these protests have been peaceful – it’s as if the government is trying to suppress our feelings about the situation.
Me: How do you feel your government is responding to your needs as a citizen?
Morris: I feel disappointed by the government as I feel it has the power to control food prices, fuel prices. In Uganda, the system never seems to work at all, corruption is at all levels and whenever one approaches an office in need of a service, the officials are always driving towards getting a bribe.
Me: What do you see as the reasons for food price inflation?
Morris: Personally I think the increase in fuel prices contributes a lot. When transport fares increase, everything gets stuck, coz farmers can’t afford transport costs for their products to the market, retailers have to hike prices due to increased transport costs.
But I can’t really explain why there’s an increase in the fuel price in Uganda! The government is not giving a solid explanation of the record double digit inflation, and I am also driven into thinking that there has been a low supply of food to the market caused by a bad season – sugar prices have almost quadrupled!
Me: How does inflation affect you personally? How do you see it affecting people around you?
Morris: Inflation affects me in that I have to forego certain things like sugar, traveling to certain places and change my diet coz I can’t afford certain meals. Even fun things like hanging out have become un-affordable.
I hate seeing HIV+ people not able to afford transportation to go to a government hospital to pick up their free ARV drugs, and seeing families going without a cup of tea, or taking porridge without sugar.
Worst of all, prices have increased, but salaries remained the same and some parents who are my friends say they can no longer take their children to school, because paying house rent has become a problem as well. Most of my friends are living in debt.
Me: How do you try and help to create political change?
Morris: I don’t think there’s anything I can do other than talking about what’s happening and crying out to the government to intervene. I can’t change the fuel prices! I can’t make our Ugandan shilling gain value! But the government can do something, the government can control this, I believe it can control the value of our currency, I believe it can subsidize the prices of agricultural products, I believe the government has reserves that it has touched. The government can change the situation, with international help.
Me: Are you seeing people go without certain items because of inflation?
Morris: Yes, people are going without sugar, people no longer buy credit for their phones like they used to hence make less or very short calls. And where someone could take a taxi or boda boda, some people walk the distance, and sometimes I do too walk some of the distances where I could take a boda boda.
Certain foods like meat, chicken are left for greens and vegetables that are relatively cheaper.
Me: Do you see any difference being made through protests?
Morris: Protests are not really bringing much fruits other than awareness making many people to know about whats happening.
Me: Have you taken part in protests? If so, why? If not, why?
Morris: I’ve never taken part in protests before because of the fear of the force that the police use against these protests. But I believe I’ve played my part by talking about the situation whenever the opportunity comes. I’ve also played my role by praying for things to change.