A week ago I was caught in a heavy downpour just after finishing up a meeting in town. I called a friend to see if he could pick me up. He could, so I found a bit of shelter under a tarpaulin and waited.
He arrived about 30 minutes later and we headed towards the West side of town. We did however need to get some petrol. This sounds easy, but it being only 4 days after the increase of the petrol price, we knew this would not be the case. For a few days many of the petrol stations had been closed, selling petrol for only a few hours everyday. Long lines of cars appear outside of petrol stations, waiting for station to open. Numerous jerry cans were lined up outside of stations, waiting to be filled. No one was happy.
The price of petrol used to be Le 17,500 for a gallon of petrol. Seeing as one UK gallon is 4.55 Liters, this means the liter price used to be Le 3,846. The new price is Le 5,000 per liter. For some reason, they have now started selling petrol per liter instead of per gallon. Maybe they’re hoping people won’t realize how big the increase in price was. If you look at the gallon price now it is Le 22,750 per gallon. This is quite a significant increase in price especially in relation to the average income in Sierra Leone!
My friend and I found a petrol station that looked like it might open soon. There were about 20 cars lined up outside so we joined the line. About 30 minutes later, the petrol station opened. We continued to wait, moving forward every few minutes as cars in the front of the line moved on. Of course the unthinkable happened. There were only two more cars in front of us and at that moment the station manager decide to stop selling. By this time we had been there for over an hour. And that is what happened to many people over the course of a week. It was not pleasant. Fortunately we made it home with the small amount of petrol left in the tank. I still don’t know why petrol stations were not selling for most of the day. Did they really have a short supply? Or was this all a power play? Were they trying to make a statement because in reality they were hoping for more of an increase in price? I hear it is even worse upcountry where they are charging up to Le 8,000 per liter!
So now taxi and poda poda drivers need to spend more on petrol. This means that transport prices have gone up from Le 1,000 to Le 1,300. In the meantime, salaries don’t change and so people spend a higher percentage of their salary on transport costs, leaving less money for living expenses. Prices of commodities are guaranteed to go up, to compensate for people’s loss of money (money now going to transport). As you can imagine, people are not so happy. But there is nothing that can be done about it. So, people will manage. They will need to manage with what they have. And I can again be thankful that I don’t need to worry about where my next meal comes from. I am privileged.