Emmanuel Sogadji has a message for the government in Togo from people who are being squeezed by fuel price rises: “Enough is enough!”
The consumer group he heads has given the administration two weeks to put the prices back to what they were, as the hike is “hitting households where it hurts”, he said.
“The authorities don’t care about people, who are living in poverty,” he added.
The Combat for Political Change (CAP 2015), Togo’s main opposition grouping, on Saturday organised a “peace march” in the capital of Lome to demand an end to the past month’s rises.
Thousands of opposition supporters and civil society groups took to the streets for several hours, chanting anti-government slogans and holding a rally.
Security forces watched over the demonstration but it passed off without incident after a previous protest in February turned violent, leaving one person dead and several others injured.
Motorcycle-taxi drivers blocked major intersections and were dispersed by police.
– Knock-on effect –
The government increased the price of fuel by about 10 percent on February 27, in the second such rise in the space of a month.
A litre of premium petrol jumped from 476 to 524 CFA francs ($0.77 to $0.85, or 0.72 euros to 0.8 euros).
Diesel went up from 478 to 526 CFA francs while regular petrol was 425 but is now 468 CFA francs.
Jean-Pierre Fabre, who leads the CAP 2015 coalition, told AFP on Saturday: “We’re asking for the government to simply return to the old prices.”
The government has said the hikes are necessary because the price of crude has gone up on the international market, from $38.38 in January 2016 to $55 in January 2017.
At the same time the dollar has strengthened.
Sogadji called the decision “unfair” and alleged that the government’s claim of subsidising fuel at the pump was false.
Price rises have already had a knock-on effect, particularly in the home-grown food industry. Items such as corn and even firewood have increased because of higher transport costs, he added.
– Calls to cancel –
Two-thirds of Togo’s nearly eight million people rely on subsistence farming and more than half of the population live in poverty, according to World Bank figures from 2015.
Unemployment is running at 29 percent, according to some Togolese economists, with young people hit especially hard.
The west African country, which borders Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso, mainly imports its petroleum products.
Evariste Ekadji, a 33-year-old taxi driver, said he has had to put up his prices, particularly for clients wanting to travel long distances.
“The government should cancel new pump prices because we are suffering in this country,” he added
Anani Ekue, a 27-year-old motorcycle-taxi driver, said he has done the same “to avoid losses” while Cossi Djiwan has taken further measures to cut costs.
The 42-year-old, who works as an accountant for a security firm, said he has stopped using his car to get to work every day because of the increased cost of fuel is eating his budget.
“I’ve downsized to my motorbike, which doesn’t consume a lot of petrol,” he said.
Fulbert Attisso, president of the Another Togo opposition party, said “this increase in the cost of fuel at the pump is ill-timed, given the difficulties people are facing”.
“The authorities should cancel this decision out of necessity,” he said.