Food riots turn deadly in Somali capital

Security forces on Monday killed at least five people in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as they cracked down on riots sparked by rising food prices and record inflation, witnesses said.

At least 20 000 people were out on the streets to demonstrate as anger grew at printers of fake money and unscrupulous traders whose preference for United States dollars over the Somali shilling is helping to push inflation to record levels.

The mobs burnt tyres, stoned motorists and smashed shop windows before police moved in to prevent the unrest from spiralling out of control.

Clashes ensued as police became embroiled in running battles with looting protestors and gunfire and grenade explosions echoing out across the war-torn Somali capital.

Two protestors were killed in Waberi, two in Dharkiley and one in K4, all southern areas of Mogadishu where many others lay injured, witnesses said.

“We do not need cruel traders”, “We do not need people who are in love with dollar yet we have the shillings”, “We want our right to live”, they chanted in the streets, where plumes of smoke rose.

“We are going to demonstrate until they [traders] accept the Somali shilling ... we cannot afford dollars,” one protestor, Hassan Said, said.

“And if they refuse to lower food prices, we will start looting their shops so that we can survive.”

Although there are no official inflation figures, United Nations monitors say cereal prices have increased by between 110% and 375% in the past year as central Somalia has endured its worst drought in recent memory.

The dollar is now equivalent to 25 000 Somali shillings, up from an average of 4 000 shillings in 1991 when the country descended into lawlessness after the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Since then, it has had no central bank to regulate inflation.

“Aren’t we Somalis? Is the US dollar our money? The answer is no,” said one demonstrator, Hussein Mohamed Ali.

Traders blamed the government for the crisis.

“Change must come from the government, not us traders,” said Ali Mohamed Siad, a leading figure among the traders of Mogadishu’s main Bakara market.

“The government collects taxes in dollars ... how can we accept a weak shilling?”

A shortage of dollars has led to a bumper crop of fake 1 000-shilling notes—the only available denomination—appearing in market places and fuelling the inflation problem in the country.

A vibrant trade in cellphones, weapons and basic foodstuffs had helped to keep Somalia’s inflation in check over the years.

But last week, the UN warned that hyperinflation and a sharp devaluation of the Somali shilling—more than 100% in the last 15 months—have increased food prices, threatening the livelihood of millions of people.

The dire situation has been exacerbated by relentless conflict as well as the delayed start to the April to June rainy season.

Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, sparking riots and protests in several poor countries.

Rising use of biofuels, trade restrictions, increased demand from Asia to serve changing diets, poor harvests and increasing transport costs have all been blamed for the price rise.—AFP

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