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Rising fuel and food prices trigger unrest


Uganda, a landlocked country in eastern Africa, is rich in natural resources, boasting fertile soil, decent rainfall and sizeable mineral deposits. It is, however, classified as a nation with low human development, ranked at number 162 (out of 189 countries) on the Human Development Index1.

Its economic growth has been mired in recent years by political instability and poor economic management. Uganda’s progress has also been hindered by increased frequency and severity of natural hazards such as drought, floods and landslides. These challenges are compounded by being the largest refugee hosting country in Africa, currently providing shelter to more than 1.3 million persons from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi2.

The backdrop

From 1971 to 1979 Uganda was ruled by Idi Amin, who is regarded as one of the most brutal dictators in history. Estimates put between 100,000 and 500,000 persons killed under his rule3, which was replete with human rights abuses, corruption and weak economic management.

As of 1986, the former rebel leader, Yoweri Museveni has reigned as President of Uganda. While Museveni has been acknowledged as bringing peace, stability and improved economic growth to the country, accusations of corruption have been rife. Museveni’s stance on homosexuality has also brought him widespread international condemnation.

On 18 February 2011, federal elections were held in Uganda, with President Museveni running for a fourth term against opposition leader Kizza Besigye. Museveni was victorious, gaining 68% of the vote with 59% voter turnout4. Besigye declared Museveni’s victory fraudulent, claiming voters and electoral officials had, in many instances, been bribed.

The escalation pathway

In 2011, inflation was running at 11% across Uganda5. Drought had caused food prices to shoot up, with one-third of the nation’s 112 districts facing food shortages6 as a direct result of this catastrophe. In some regions, the price of vegetables had doubled or tripled, and in highly food insecure areas, people were forced to consume leaves and termites.

Fuel prices also soared, having risen 50% between January and April 20117, which led to prices of transportation increasing. Ugandans become particularly incensed by the situation after newly re-elected President Museveni commented to Ugandans, 'What I call on the public to do is to use fuel sparingly. Don't drive to bars.'

The disgruntled citizens’ anger was exacerbated by the fact that Museveni’s government planned to purchase eight fighter jets for $740 million, and to outlay $1.3 million on a ceremony to swear in the president following his re-election. Corruption and the government’s inability to provide sufficient jobs to new graduates also contributed to the Ugandans’ dissatisfaction.

The event(s)

Roughly two months after the federal election, on 11 April 2011, protests erupted in Uganda, commencing in Kampala, the nation’s capital. They quickly spread to other urban centres including Gulu and Masaka.

The protest were organised by a group called Activists for Change (A4C), who were instrumental in leading the events which expressed peoples’ dissatisfaction with rising prices. Protests took place twice a week to draw attention to these issues. Opposition leader Besigye was also reportedly instrumental in organising these demonstrations, and was arrested several times over the course of the unrest. Furthermore, the government maintained that the protests constituted unlawful assembly and therefore must be stopped.

The government imposed this by use of force: reports state that nine unarmed people were killed during this time including six in Kampala, two in Gulu and one in Masaka8. None of the deceased were reportedly actively participating in the protests. In addition, more than 30 journalists were reportedly beaten or shot9. In Kampala alone, 84 injured persons to taken to hospital10. Numerous arrests were made. Kizza Besigye, the opposition leader, was among those injured, having been shot in the arm with a rubber bullet.

Early intervention

  • Implement energy alternatives to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Responsible management of financial resources.
  • Improve communication of policies implemented.
  • Increase citizen participation in the definition of priorities.
  • Better restrictions on general election rules – limitations on how political parties go about gaining support.

Key themes

Drought/extreme weather event, food shortages, government, inflation, poverty.


  1. BBC, 2018. Uganda country profile. [accessed 29 May 2019].
  2. Human Rights Watch, 2012. Uganda: Investigate April 2011 killings during protest. [accessed 13 September 2019].
  3. Human Rights Watch, 2016. Uganda: 5 Years On, No Justice for ‘Walk to Work’ Killings. [accessed 13 September 2019].
  4. Kavuma, R., 2011. Uganda: The food and fuel crisis behind the unrest. The Guardian. [accessed 13 September 2019].
  5. Nantume, G., 2018. How 2011 protests shook Uganda. Daily Monitor. [online] 30 April. No longer available.
  6. Rice, X., 2011. Ugandan leader wins presidential election rejected as fraudulent by opposition. The Guardian. [accessed 13 September 2011].
  7. Tran, M., 2013. Has Yoweri Museveni outstayed his welcome as Ugandan president? [accessed 29 May 2019].
  8. Wafula, W., 2011. Uganda Fuel prices rise higher. Daily Monitor. [accessed 25 January 2021].
  9. Wikipedia, 2019. List of countries by Human Development Index. [accessed 12 September 2019].
  10. Wikipedia, 2019. Idi Amin. [accessed 12 September 2019].
  11. Wikipedia, 2019. Yoweri Museveni. [accessed 12 September 2019].
  12. Wikipedia, 2018. Walk to work protest. [accessed 13 September 2019].


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