For the umpteenth time President Museveni has blamed the high commodity prices on the Russian evasion of Ukraine that started on February 24, 2022.
“It is clear that the main driver of high commodity prices and shortages of some commodities is the war in Ukraine and the sanctions that were put on Russian oil and other products by the Western countries,” Museveni said.
It’s now coming to a year since the Western nations imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Russia but it’s increasingly becoming hard to link Uganda’s inflation to the war. The US impeded Russia from making debt payments using foreign currency held in US banks, with major Russian banks removed from the international financial messaging and the effect was to delay payments to Russia for its oil and gas exports. On its part, the United Kingdom (UK) omitted key Russian banks from its financial system, froze the assets of all Russian banks, hampered Russian firms from borrowing money and placed limits on deposits Russians can make in UK banks.
The UK, the EU and the US also imposed a ban on the export of dual – use goods – with civilian and military purposes, such as vehicle parts; an import ban on Russian gold and a ban on the export of luxury goods to Russia. Assets apparently belonging to P Russian president Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been frozen in the US, EU, UK and Canada and superyachts worth billions of dollars linked to the so-called Russian oligarchs have been seized and many international brands have either suspended operating in Russia or withdrawn altogether.
According to the World Bank, the potential impact of the war in Ukraine on commodity markets happens in two ways: the physical impact of blockades and the destruction of productive capacity; and the impact on trade and production following sanctions. “These sanctions are having major global ramifications Russia and Ukraine export many commodities.
Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, pig iron, natural gas, and nickel, and it accounts for a significant share of coal, crude oil, and refined aluminium exports. Russia and Belarus are important suppliers of fertilisers. Ukraine is a key exporter of food commodities such as wheat and sunflower seed oil,” the World Bank said last year as prices of commodities rose across the globe. With a lot at stake, Museveni claimed that Uganda has avoided taking sides in that war because his government thinks that it could have been avoided and that they have told those involved our views in private.
“Consequently, we have avoided negotiating with friendly Russia for cheaper oil like India has done because we are also friends with the USA and all the Western countries,” Museveni said. Yet after Museveni’s speech American newspaper The Wall Street Journal revealed in the aftermath of its incursion into Ukraine, Russia has expanded its cooperation with Museveni’s government.
The newspaper said that elements within the regime had told them that the Russians offered the services of a propaganda network known as the Africa Back Office to come up with a communications strategy aimed at dissipating disapproval of Mr Museveni’s government, an offer that was gladly accepted.
The people also pointed to the deal the Russian state-controlled propagandist news channel, known as RT, had entered into with state-owned Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) ostensibly to give its version of the war. The Wall Street Journal said that now, for several hours a day, millions who tune into what it termed as Uganda’s most widely watched national TV station, the UBC, are seeing Moscow’s narrative of the war as a successful campaign to liberate Ukraine and Western sanctions on Russia as the cause of worsening famine in Africa.
“In a WhatsApp group, senior Ugandan communication officials’ direct people at government-friendly news sites to publish pro-Russian articles portraying the West as weak and Moscow as a more reliable partner, according to excerpts viewed,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
In the aftermath of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine which Putin has called “special operation “the American newspaper said that three Mi-28 attack helicopters manufactured in Russia made their way to a Ugandan air force base. The helicopters, it said, are to support Uganda’s military in its operation codenamed Shujaa, against the Allied Democratic Forces or ADF in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
In the speech, Museveni didn’t give much away in terms of Uganda’s foreign affairs as he focused much on the bread-and-butter issues that Ugandans are currently grappling with. For the whole of last year, Ugandans grappled with the prices of vegetable cooking oil. “We are also intensifying efforts to produce products such as palm oil that is used in the manufacture of soap instead of importing it from Indonesia and Malaysia,” Museveni said.
Yet a Twaweza’s 2021 Sauti za Wananchi baseline survey in which 3,000 respondents were sampled through in-person interviews between September 15 and October 14, 2021, suggested that the food crisis in Uganda predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In October 2021, 24 per cent of the wealthier households and 55 per cent of the poorer households went without eating for a day,” the baseline survey report reads in part.
Although Ugandans would like food prices to go down Museveni didn’t give them much hope saying they are focusing on their availability rather than affordability.
“While imported items may be scarce our own locally produced items will plenty. These are bananas, cassava, millet, beans, maize, beef, milk, fish, eggs, chicken, etc. They may be expensive because of the petrol that is used to transport them, but they will be available. Even the prices of some of them remained stable during Christmas, take beef, for instance,” Museveni said. Though Museveni claimed food prices are stabilising figures from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that Ugandans struggled to buy food with portions of food on the plate drastically reducing.
A survey conducted by Monitor in markets peppering Kampala and Jinja cities during the festive season indicates that vegetable oil costs Shs10,000 per litre; onions Shs2,500 per kilogramme; tomatoes Shs4,000 per kilogramme; carrots Shs2,500 per kilogramme; green pepper Shs3,000 per kilogramme; salt Shs1,000 per sachet; curry powder Shs10,000 and muchuzi mix Shs8,000.President Museveni insisted that this prices are now stable and he attributed to what he called some element of speculation by some goods and service providers who he accused of unnecessarily raising prices.
“When the consumers stay away on account of the high prices, they are, then, forced to lower the prices and still make a profit. What does that mean? It means, they were just too greedy for super-profits and were taking advantage of the situation. They were profiteering. That greed also distorts the picture of the struggle for lowering the costs of business and the cost of living,” Museveni said.
The prices of fuel are still high and food prices are unlikely to go down and Museveni just like before said the solution would be use of electric vehicles.
“We are working on plans to shift to electric buses, electric cars and electric piki pikis [ motorcycles]. The quickest move may be on Piki pikis We have agreed with some investors to take away the petrol/diesel ones and give the owners the electric ones,” Museveni said, adding that investors recover their money by the government licensing them to operate charging stations where the electric batteries are recharged.
In shift to the electric cars and motorcycles Uganda is banking on Kiira Motors Corporation the state-owned company which first announced that it would start manufacturing 5,000 vehicles yearly in 2019 and has continued to produce prototypes. A hybrid five-seater Kiira electric vehicle is estimated to cost about Shs100 million, way beyond what Ugandans can afford.
Though Museveni has advocated for the shift from vehicles that are powered by dirty fuels to electric vehicles, he never misses a chance to remind the world that Uganda’s petroleum will start flowing in 2025.