- By Efrem Gebreab & Thomas Naadi & Ranga Sirilal & Becky Dale
- BBC News
The high cost of living is pushing people to take to the streets to protest the exorbitant prices of key commodities. The BBC has mapped all reported protests over fuel since January 2021, revealing a huge increase in protests this year.
The cost of fuel affects many aspects of daily life: personal travel, transportation of goods, which can drive up food prices, and energy for electricity and heating.
Around the world, protesters have called for change. They demanded that gasoline become more affordable or that it be available. They participated in peaceful protests and attacked governments. And some paid an even higher price.
Khadija Bah, 16, was standing on her family’s front porch when she was hit by a stray bullet.
Just meters from her home in the eastern part of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, Khadija had for days watched the growing crowds gathering to protest rising fuel prices.
But on August 10, the protest turned violent. As armed police confronted protesters, a stray bullet entered Khadjia’s young body. She collapsed on the ground and died almost immediately.
Her mother, Maria Sesay, says she still struggles to come to terms with her daughter’s death. A student at the local secondary school, her mother says Khadija’s dream was to one day become a nurse.
“I am so sad. So far I have struggled so hard to raise my daughter. But now she is dead. I am in so much pain.”
Boosted by record fuel prices, this small West African nation had not seen such violence in years.
In August, 25 people were killed, including five police officers, in violent clashes between protesters and police in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
Rising fuel prices not only affect travel, but also the transport of all goods, and therefore indirectly push up the price of food.
Since March, the price of fuel in the country has almost doubled, from 12,000 leones (572 FCFA) per liter to a record high of 22,000 leones (1,052 FCFA) in July. This has led to higher food prices.
In July, the central bank introduced new banknotes – removing the three zeros from the Leone – in a bid to restore confidence in its inflation-hit currency.
The violence was eventually brought under control after authorities declared a citywide curfew. Internet access was also restricted, to prevent protesters from communicating and organizing a new rally.
Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio later said the protests were a violent attempt to overthrow his government. However, many locals dispute that claim, telling the BBC they took to the streets to protest rising fuel and food prices.
But Sierra Leone is far from alone in battling rising prices and protests over the cost of living.
world oil crisis
Analyzing data on protests around the world, collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled), the BBC has established that between January and September this year, more than 90 countries and territories descended on the street for the price or availability of fuel.
A third of these countries were countries that had no fuel protests in 2021. For example, Spain saw no fuel price protests in 2021, but 335 individual rallies during of the month of March alone of this year.
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Not a single continent has remained free of fuel-related protests in the past nine months.
In Indonesia, there have been more than 400 gasoline-related protests so far this year, compared to just 19 in 2021. In Italy, there have been more than 200 in the first eight months of 2022, against only two last year. And in Ecuador, there were more than 1,000 protests against fuel in June alone.
Henry Wilkinson, director of intelligence at Dragonfly, a security and intelligence service, analyzed the overall pattern of protests and said what surprised him was where they were taking place.
“What is unusual this time around is that we are seeing protests in places that are not usually prone to protests. The war in Ukraine has had a huge and disproportionate impact. A resolution to the conflict would significantly alleviate the crisis world.”
Is Ukraine the only reason for rising fuel prices?
No. There are three main reasons driving up the price of fuel around the world.
Crude oil – was cheaper at the start of the Covid pandemic as many businesses temporarily closed and demand for energy collapsed. But when life returned to normal and demand for energy increased, suppliers struggled to keep up with demand and so prices rose.
The US dollar – is at an all-time high against the pound, euro, yuan and yen. Oil used to make gasoline is paid for in US dollars. A weak local currency against the dollar therefore makes fuel even more expensive.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has led many countries to ban imports of Russian oil, which has led to an increase in demand for other producers and therefore an increase in prices.
From economic collapse to political collapse
Among the 91 countries and territories plagued by civil unrest over fuel prices, it was Sri Lanka that earlier this year made international headlines after mass protests broke out. brought the government to its knees and eventually overthrew former President Gotabaja Rajapaksa.
With one of the highest inflations in Asia, Sri Lankans still face a cost of living crisis as the prices of fuel, food and medicine continue to rise.
Wimala Dissanayaka, 48, a vegetable vendor in the upmarket suburb of Thalawathugoda, Colombo, says her family now lives hand to mouth.
“Prices for everything have skyrocketed. Our living costs are going up but our incomes haven’t changed.
“I have three children and the bus fares have gone up so much that it now costs 100 rupees (180 FCFA) per child to go to school. days.”
Wimala says she can no longer afford to refuel her small truck to transport her produce to and from the market. Instead, she has to make do with public transport or share elevators with other salespeople.
“The prices are so expensive that my customers don’t want to spend a lot. People who used to buy 500 grams or a kilogram of vegetables are now asking for 100 grams or 250 grams. And those who came by car or motorbike are now either on foot or by push bike.”
The end is not for tomorrow
As governments around the world scramble to find solutions to their countries’ economic crises, protests over food and fuel continue. But for some, the price to pay is high.
Over the past nine months, according to an original BBC study, more than 80 people have lost their lives due to fuel price protests. Among them are people from Argentina, Ecuador, Guinea, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Panama, Peru, South Africa and Sierra Leone.
In Freetown, calm has returned to the streets and most traders have reopened their shops. But for Abdul, Khadija’s father, and his entire family, life will never be the same.
“My daughter was such a promising child. Now she’s gone.”