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Human Rights

Price hikes on food increases problems in Senegal

The increase in global food prices is posing a serious problem in Senegal. Many families can't afford to buy the food they need to survive, and some people limit themselves to just one meal a day.

baskets of staple foods

Not just rice, beans and peanuts - many foodstuffs in Senegal are terribly expensive

Thousands of young people have been taking to the streets in the center of Senegal's capital, Dakar, to protest against the most recent in a seemingly endless stream of food price hikes.

Not surprisingly, many women are among the demonstrators, as they're usually the ones who have to find a way to feed their families - whatever the price.

Touti Samb is one of them. She has been demonstrating because she is sick of just watching food prices go up.

"A sack of rice is expensive. Tomatoes are expensive. Everything is expensive." she said. "I'm doing everything I can just to make sure there's food on the table every day."

Not long ago, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that ever more people are being pushed into poverty due to rising food prices. One World Bank report said food prices increased by 36 percent over the last year alone.

goods at a Senegalese market

Market purchases cause worries for most Senegalese

Although the people in this West African nation are caught up in a global problem, Alioune Tine, president of the human rights organization RADDHO (Rencontre africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme), says it should be up to the Senegalese government to take care of its citizens.

Food, health, education and work are all fundamental human rights, he pointed out.

"As far as I'm concerned, whoever is the head of state has to make sure the people have enough to eat," Tine added. "But one thing is clear when you look around in Africa: most crises come from the state's ineptitude at dealing with these challenges."

Widening gap between elite, middle class

In Senegal, Tine says, there's a large gap between the elite and the rest of the population. The elite minority sits comfortably, wanting for nothing. But even middle class families in the Dakar suburbs are faced with dire problems when it comes to getting enough to eat without being driven into poverty. Many people here can often afford to eat only once a day.

Like the Ndiaye family in Dakar. Wife and mother Fatou Bintou Ndiaye, who has to cook every day for her husband, three children and much of her extended family, also took to the streets to raise her voice against the high price of food.

"Every time you go to the market, the prices are higher. A kilogram of vegetables can cost 400 franc (60 euro cents/90 cents) today, then two or even three times as much tomorrow." Ndiaye added that some types of foods have even become luxury items. "Enough is enough!"

family at a Senegalese market

Senegalese people are on the move against high food prices

Tough bargaining at the market

The World Bank says the price hikes are the result of a number of factors. Higher fuel costs, bad harvests and an increase in using foodstuffs for biofuel production have all contributed to the problem.

And it's a problem that affects those in the developing world more than in the industrialized world, where people have higher incomes and spend a smaller percentage of their income on food.

The bustling Nguelaw market in one of Dakar's neighborhoods is loud with customers and salespeople haggling over prices. The price increases the World Bank writes about take on a personal dimension here, for the families who have to eat, and the vendors selling their wares. They all feel they have to justify the prices they're asking - although they have little control over them.

"The government must stand up for its people," one vendor told Deutsche Welle.

"One thing it could do is subsidize basic foods. Then, I think, the prices might go back down. But no one can expect us to buy goods at 200 francs and sell them for the same price. Food is expensive for us, too. Things are difficult for us, too."

Government inaction

But the people selling their wares aren't the ones profiting from the high prices. The main winners are financial speculators, according to human rights activist Alioune Tine. Some food reserves are being kept from the market to drive supply down while demand - and prices - increase.

Men walking along foodstalls in Senegal

Business is slow for many food stalls in Dakar

Tine pointed to the ineffectiveness of current state strategies. "It's a question of administrative structure and corruption. There are times when officials just close their eyes to what is right in front of them."

So far, widespread complaints and demonstrations haven't had much of an effect. But activists refuse to take no for an answer. They continue to call for protests in Dakar, and thousands of people keep showing up to vent their frustration over Senegal's prohibitively high food prices.

Leaders of the "That's Enough" campaign have been working since the beginning of the year with the rap group Keur gi. They're trying to motivate even more citizens to push for their basic right to food.

Rapper Oumar Toure is one of the group's original members. He emphasized the need for youth to get active. "We can't stand around and watch anymore," he said.

Tine supports the rapper's call for action, but he thinks it's also clear that the government must act.

"The priority has to be securing people's right to food. The prices have to be such that everyone has enough to eat."

Author: Babou Diallo/Dierke Köpp / sad
Editor: Anke Rasper

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