The Gambia has been hit hard by a weeklong shortage of diesel, the country’s most popular form of fuel among commercial vehicle drivers. The shortage started since Tuesday 26th February 2013, just about a week after the country celebrated 48 years of so-called independence from Britain on 18th February 1965. The current fuel crisis is the longest ever to hit the tiny West African nation and has forced a rise in prices. The official prices have increased from D47.50 to D48.00 per litre for diesel, whereas others especially in the ‘black market,’ where it is much more available say the prices are up to D50.00 (approximately US$1.5). The shortage in diesel has generally slowed down business and so far caused unprecedented lateness among workers and students among other commuters.
“Since last Tuesday (when the shortage began) I find it very hard to go about my usual business rounds and this is very bad for me,” a local currency dealer who preferred anonymity told me. “My business is such that I have to move around to meet my customers in the different parts of the society and so I directly feel the pinch of the fuel shortage,” he added.
“I am really suffering because of the diesel shortage. I cannot visit all my customers as usual in a round and that means getting very much less what I used have in a day and now a week,” Mamadou Jallow, another currency arbiter said. “I have resorted to the Will of God as far as this shortage is concerned. We now wait for the intervention of the Almighty God,” he said, adding that with God everything else become easy.
Local currency dealers in The Gambia generally have ‘fixed’ customers and therefore mostly move around to meet them. The government frowns at the practice and encourages them to register formally with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs to make sure they fit in the formal economy. But local arbiters are not the only people affected.
“I earn twice less than what I used to earn before the crisis started. More than half of my goods are highly perishable and the lack of proper storage facilities is equal to adding insult to injury,” a frustrated market woman told me. “Since the shortage hit, I always wake up about two hours earlier than usual and yet at best I arrive at market one hour late. I have to struggle; run after vehicles with my load on my head,” said Mariama Simma who is 42 but looks more like someone in her mid sixties.
The Serrekunda market, “Sandika” is a meeting point for many vendors in the Greater Banjul Area, especially those who sell basic food commodities. Women from every nuke and cranny in the city gather there for their daily economic activities but if there is anything, the shortage in diesel have also hit them hard. This challenge in the transport industry has made life more difficult for a section of society that is barely living from hand to mouth.
For Mariama and indeed many other vendors around the Greater Banjul Area, the shortage in diesel means selling a lot less than what they used to and losing a lot more than what they sell on a daily basis.
The fuel crisis, although is over, many are struggling with the post crisis trauma, which is mostly economical.