Kenya’s recent fuel crisis has left petrol pumps dry. Politicians are blaming each other and giving varied reasons for the shortage, from the government being inept to government plans to increase prices in an effort to get money for campaigning to the misappropriation of funds meant to subsidize the cost of fuel. Others have pointed a finger at the current war in Russia vs Ukraine as the cause. No matter the reason, it’s causing much suffering, especially for those at low-income levels, and the government must do more to solve the problem.
According to the Borgen Project report, around 35.5% of Kenya’s population is living below the poverty line. More than one-third of the entire country lives on less than the U.S. $1.90 per day. Much of Kenya is rural land, which contributes to high rates of the population living in poverty. With a lack of fuel in the country, the situation is worse. The current prices of food, travelling, school supplies, and health care have sky-rocketed to levels that are not affordable.
During a recent trip to Siaya County, I saw first-hand the pain people are experiencing due to a lack of fuel in Kenya. Looking through my hotel window, I could see hundreds of motorcycles that spend nights at fuel stations hoping that they will get some fuel. These people depend on petrol to run their businesses. They are an essential component of our economy since they ferry people and goods at a reasonable price. If they don’t have fuel, they can’t do their job. Also, like any other person, they have families to feed, and they must take children to school and take care of other needs, including health. For the last two weeks, they have not been able to fulfill the needs of their families while they desperately wait for hours at the fueling stations.
Nigeria has also seen a fuel shortage. This situation was worse in the months of February and March though pockets of scarcity are still ongoing in some communities. As in Kenya, the scarcity has grounded various economic activities and left some drivers spending nights at filling stations to get fuel. The ripple effect of this on citizens and livelihoods is inflation that has risen to 15.07% as fuel scarcity affects the prices of commodities. With the country having one of the worst poverty records in the world with about 70 million people in extreme poverty and a significant number of the population living on daily income, it is certain this fuel scarcity has had a big impact on them.
The lingering energy crisis Nigerians have faced has become worse with the collapse of the national grid. Aside from businesses that depend on fuel, hospitals (government and private) depend on it to offer services to patients. As a physician practicing in Nigeria, I know the negative impact it has on patients. In a period of scarcity, patients will pay even more for care or simply avoid accessing healthcare in the hospital when they need it. More worrisome is the pregnant women who need emergency care. Efforts are geared to encourage expectant mothers to access hospitals and stop home delivery in order to reduce maternal mortality, but these challenges are enough to possibly discourage expectant mothers from accessing healthcare.
African governments have a responsibility to serve the population in a more professional and better way. The population expects that the government they have elected have the capacity to provide them with all public goods including fuel without fail. Many communities have demonstrated in the hope of getting government attention to manage the fuel costs. All these have not borne any fruits.
We believe that since the government controls and oversees fuel prices and distribution, there must be stringent measures put in place to avert any such crisis in future. The population should not be at the government’s mercy to survive. Everyone does their best in the farming, transport and health sectors, among others, and they should be supported by government when it comes to provision of basic commodities like fuel.
Governments must be held accountable when a woman dies because she could not get to the health facility in good time due to a lack of transport caused by fuel shortages. Farmers must hold governments accountable if they are not able to cultivate their lands in readiness for rains due to fuel shortage. This must stop and there should be repercussions when government, whose mandate is to create a conducive environment for business fails its own.
We can take a cue from social crisis in countries like Algeria, Turkey and Egypt which led to uprising. People can withstand for only a period of time but when push to the wall the consequences can be brutal.
We understand that crisis can be inevitable sometimes, but government should be proactive to provide urgent help for critical needs especially healthcare centres.
Dr Tijani Salami is a physician, sexual and reproductive health expert and founder of Sisters Caregivers Project Initiative which provides medical and social support for women and advocates for an end to child marriage and maternal malnutrition.
Jane Otai is a development worker in Kenya. Jane leads the Empowered Girls Initiative (EGI) program that advocates for the rights of adolescent mothers in achieving their education dreams and live a dignified life with access to health and employment.