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Rising rice price frustrates citizens

The rise in the price of rice has sparked widespread dissatisfaction among the citizenry, with some questioning President Boakai’s ability to rescue the country from the challenges it faced under the regime of his predecessor, Mr. Weah.

By Kruah Thompson

Monrovia, May 22, 2024: In Monrovia and its environs, citizens are expressing sharp discontent over the recent increase in the price of rice, the country’s staple food. 

While rice remains a major political commodity here, there’s a mix of fun and anger in the voices of those reacting to the rice price hike, as some joke: “But Boakai Dah Baby?”

This slang, which suggests that the president is not a kid, made rounds during the just-ended presidential transition when an elderly supporter of President Joseph Nyumah Boakai sought to take issue with a lawmaker noted for verbally attacking presidents.

It has resurfaced, this time as a mockery by supporters of President Boakai’s opponents who are using the increasing price of rice to question the government’s ability to effectively address Liberia’s age-old economic woes, particularly rice, which massively contributed to the nation’s past civil crisis.

At a special news conference in Monrovia, Commerce Minister Amin Modad announced a 20% tariff impost on imports, which contributed to the sudden increase in the price of rice from 17 to 18.50 for a 25kg bag.

However, President Boakai was due to discuss with rice importers on Tuesday, 21 May 2024, to find ways to address the issues.

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The situation has sparked widespread dissatisfaction among the citizenry, with some questioning the president’s ability to deliver on his pledge to rescue the country from the challenges it faced under the regime of his predecessor, Mr. George Manneh Weah.

This paper interviewed those mostly affected by the price hike in the Liberian market to solicit their views.

Market women, local vendors, entrepreneurs, and citizens interviewed by this paper have expressed concerns that President Boakai’s trust in the people may be eroded if immediate action is not taken to address the rising rice prices. 

Many residents and business owners are hesitant to support the Unity Party (UP)- led government if the situation persists.

Rice holds a significant place in Liberian history, with fluctuations in its price often contributing to governmental instability. 

The country’s heavy reliance on imported rice renders it susceptible to global market changes, import tariffs, and transportation costs. 

Liberia is noted to have fertile soil where rice can be grown for local consumption and even export, but despite its bitter past, the country dramatically remains food-dependant on other countries for its staple commodity.

Additionally, domestic factors such as currency devaluation and economic instability exacerbate the situation.

Some of the citizens recalled the 1979 Rice Riots as evidence, reminding the Boakai administration of the socio-economic grievances and political discontent that can arise from unaddressed price hikes. 

However, some also expressed hope that President Boakai will work with his cabinet to resolve the issue. Also, others criticize the president’s administration’s handling of the situation.

A marketer only identified as Ma Martha remarked: “But Boakai that Baby? He comes to the rescue, but prices go up. What do you think will happen to poor people who managed with the first price imposed by the same Unity Party government under Ellen?” she asked.

This sentiment echoes the frustration felt by many who perceive the current administration as failing to deliver on its promises.

While some supporters of President Boakai have acknowledged that external factors contribute to the price hike, others have accused the Commerce Minister of allegedly colluding with importers to exploit the situation for personal gains. 

Also, Sarrah Blamo, who strongly opposed the increase, alleged that the commerce minister is a businessman, questioning whether he has had conversations with other importers and benefactors to inflate the price.

Blamo alleged that this hack could enable the minister to sell the rice he had already secured at higher profits.

Amidst these tensions, the Deputy Minister for Technical Affairs, Daniel O. Sanoe, told a regular press briefing Tuesday, 21 May 2024, at the Ministry of Information that the increase had taken effect.

However, he said President Boakai was due to meet with importers to settle the issues.

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