Sylivester Ernest 21 April 2011 Dar Es Salaam The government should take urgent measures to alleviate economic hardships that the majority of the population is facing lest the protests taking place in the region are replicated in Tanzania. The warning comes in the wake of ugly street protests in Uganda and Kenya over the increasing cost of living, conditions which, our respondents noted, prevail in Tanzania as well. A cross-section of people who talked to The Citizen yesterday were concerned it would be "just a matter of time" before what is happening in Uganda and Kenya is copied by Tanzanians who are also grappling with increase in virtually all goods and services. But in a quick rejoinder, the minister for Finance, Mr Mustafa Mkulo, allayed the fears, saying that the situation in the two neighbouring countries was dissimilar to that of Tanzania. He noted for instance that while inflation in Uganda has hit double digits, Tanzania's was still in the single digit and that indicators showed that its economy was performing better. Critics, however, stressed that the government must take necessary steps to put brakes on the increases in fuel and food prices, the two major areas that trigger escalation in the cost of living. Reports show that the inflation rate in Uganda rose to 11.1 per cent this month, up from 6.4 in February leading to the now famous 'Walk-to-Work' campaign led by the Oppositions that is petitioning the government to put the situation in check. The demonstrations have led to a number of deaths, scores of injuries while hundreds of marchers, including opposition MPs and leaders, have been arraigned. Reports from Uganda show that at least 104 people have been arrested for participating in the "Walk-to-Work" campaign on Tuesday only. Protesters were arrested mainly in Kampala, Wakiso, Jinja and Luweero districts over alleged offences of inciting violence, blocking traffic flow, holding illegal assemblies and disobeying lawful orders. In Kenya, hundreds of activists held street demonstrations in Mombasa and Nairobi from the beginning of this week, demanding a quick intervention to reduce the prices of fuel and food. The Kenyan government, through Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, responded by declaring that everything was being done to put the situation under control. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyata announced a reduction of tax of diesel and kerosene by 20 and 30 per cent respectively. Economists and activists told The Citizen yesterday that they won't be surprised if the Kenyan and Ugandan scenarios were to be witnessed in Tanzania since the government "seems not to be acting to put the matters in line." A senior lecturer at Mzumbe University Faculty of Economics, Dr Honest Ngowi, said he was surprised that no steps were being taken by the authorities despite the alarm in Kenya and Uganda. "Perhaps they are waiting for the people to storm the streets, but they know the (economic) situation is worse now than ever," said Dr Ngowi adding: "The eight per cent inflation is not good at all." Though he agreed demonstrations were not the best option, he noted with concern that everything from house rent, food to fuel prices had gone up and urgent steps need to be taken. Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, the Civic United Front chairman, who is also a renowned economist, said than much as demonstrations were not the best way to solve economic problems, it was incumbent upon the government to take steps to address the situation so as to avoid confrontations with angry wananchi. "We need to have prudent strategies like reducing government spending, increasing the economic output and curbing the increasing youth unemployment," he said adding: "I've said this before: we need to have some intelligent government response... what it is planning to do to arrest the mess, otherwise the government will always be on the receiving end." He advised the government to look into ways to strengthen the local currency, which is perpetually weakening against other currencies. He said this could be done by releasing and utilising more foreign money into the local market. Regarding the food supply, the Bank of Tanzania Monthly Economic Review (MER) for March, showed there was satisfactory supply, but then, shortages were reported in Ngorongoro, Kilolo, Longido and Iringa districts with the government planning to distribute 10,338 tonnes of grain at subsidised prices. "Things are worse in urban areas and that's where demonstrations normally start," warned Prof Lipumba. Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) Executive Director Ms Usu Mallya, faulted the country's economic system, which she alleges is the course of all the troubles. "We can't hold on to the so-called free market economy and expect stability... we have repeatedly advocated changes but it seems no one listens," she charged. Recently, the opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) staged demonstrations in the Lake Zone regions to petition the government to put mechanisms to lower the cost of living. Chadema national chairman, Mr Freeman Mbowe, said yesterday his party would resume with demos in the Highlands regions, starting with Mbeya on May 4, this year. "We are ready for whatever action the government will take... if they arrest us and throw us into prison the way (Uganda President Yoweri) Museveni is doing to (Kizza) Besigye we'll go there as martyrs," said Mr Mbowe. Mr Mbowe, who is also the Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, wondered why the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State said nothing about the situation in Uganda during their meeting in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday. "It is true there are global factors behind the problems, but our governments can still subsidise certain goods and reduce taxes on fuel and some of imported products to control the situation," he suggested. However, minister Mkulo was upbeat, noting that there was nothing to worry about since the economic situations in Uganda and Kenya are "much worse than our." "The inflation in Uganda has reached more than 11 per cent and we aren't there yet, they're in a critical condition," he said. Mr Mkullo, who had just jetted in from Washington DC, said he would, in due course, be in a position to explain the economic situation of the country and allay fears among wananchi.