An unidentified individual engaged in a stark act of protest on Thursday in Mombasa, where he set himself on fire, purportedly as a response to the formidable economic hardships plaguing millions of Kenyan citizens.
Ascending to the pinnacle of a prominent statue situated within a bustling roundabout, the man proceeded to ignite himself in a display of defiance. Allegedly spurred by the relentless rise in the cost of living, exacerbated by a downturn in business activity and a wave of job reductions, this drastic act underscored the depths of despair felt by numerous Kenyan individuals.
Local reports indicate that there were claims from onlookers suggesting that the man’s actions were prompted by allegations of theft, further fueling speculation surrounding the motive behind the self-immolation.
A widely circulated online video captures the distressing scene, showcasing the individual dousing his body with a liquid substance suspected to be flammable before igniting it.
A law enforcement officer stationed in Mombasa confirmed the incident to regional media outlets. Prompt intervention by responders led to the individual’s rescue, after which he was transported to the nearby Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital for medical attention and treatment.
The surge in living costs can be attributed to a constellation of factors, prominently including soaring fuel prices, persistent drought conditions, and the depreciation of the national currency, the Shilling. These complex dynamics have pushed many Kenyans to a breaking point, resulting in heightened social unrest and expressions of dissent, including street protests against the mounting burden of daily expenses.
High Cost of Living in Kenya
In June, Kenyans experienced a brief respite as inflation receded to 7.9%, even amidst a surge in the costs of essential goods. Despite this dip, the mounting expenses of daily life and the persistent burden of escalating food prices continue to affect households. Notably, the indicator decreased from 8% in May to 7% in June, marking one of the lowest readings over the past ten months.
The fluctuations in prices of food, energy, and transportation, collectively accounting for nearly 57% of family budgets, were significant drivers of the inflation rates, as per data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
“The month-to-month Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages Index increased by 1.3 percent between May 2023 and June 2023. Notably, the prices for carrots, onions (leeks and bulbs), tomatoes, and maize grain-loose increased by 9.0, 7.3, 6.4, and 5.5 percent, respectively during the same period,” disclosed KNBS director-general McDonald Obudho on Friday.
Conversely, cabbages, potatoes, avocados, and kale (sukuma wiki) experienced price reductions of 6.1, 4.6, 2.7, and 0.3%, respectively. To shield consumers from the escalating price of sugar, driven by local cane shortages, the Kenyan government initiated a duty-free importing window, with the intention of curbing further increases in the cost of this sweetener.
Nonetheless, this temporary relief is expected to be short-lived, as Kenyans brace themselves for the impact of the State’s newly introduced tax collection measures outlined in the Finance Act, recently signed into law by President William Ruto on Monday.
A surprise uptick in consumer prices in May prompted the Central Bank to convene an early meeting, resulting in an earlier-than-planned interest rate hike. In this unscheduled meeting, CBK officials raised the benchmark lending rate by 100 basis points to 10.50%, reaching the highest level since 2016. With the implementation of the 16% VAT on fuel by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), Kenyans are now grappling with rising energy costs.
Aligned with the Finance Act of 2023, which raised the VAT on gasoline from 8%, Kamau Thugge, the new governor of the CBK, anticipates prolonged high inflation for a few months. The Central Bank’s projection that the inflation rate will recede by the end of August or the beginning of September 2023 suggests that Kenyans should brace themselves for a challenging period.
Given Kenya’s status as a net importer, further weakening of the shilling is anticipated to contribute to higher commodity costs. As importers face sustained currency demand and the consequences of mounting inflation, the shilling is projected to remain vulnerable, potentially leading to further depreciation in the medium term.
The anticipated surge in input costs for businesses, resulting from increased expenses for importing commodities as raw materials, could prompt manufacturers and merchants to pass on the added costs to consumers, resulting in elevated prices. Notably, Kenya’s key imports encompass petroleum products, equipment, medicines, machinery, medical supplies, vegetable oil, vehicles, wheat, and clothing. In addition to impacting household budgets, the depreciation of the shilling is also poised to raise electricity prices due to heightened foreign exchange fees on power bills.