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High Soap Price Upsets Ugandans, Leaves Minister Reminiscing on Using Pawpaw Leaves Instead in His Youth

By March 27, 2022No Comments
Matia Kasaija, Unganda's Finance Minister.jpg

Uganda’s Minister of Finance has advised the people to start finding alternatives to laundry bar soap, which has since July 2021 registered a rapid increase in price.

At a press conference called to address the rise in the prices of essential commodities, Matia Kasaija, the Minister for Finance, Planning and Economic Development told journalists that it was time Ugandans found alternatives to laundry bar soap.

Mr. Kasaija suggested powder laundry detergent, as one possible alternative. In Uganda, a kilogram of powder laundry detergent goes for $2.3, which is about the same money one would use to purchase a kilogram of a similar amount of laundry bar soap.

Laundry bar soap is at the heart of the raging controversy over the handling of hikes in the prices of basic commodities in Uganda

Laundry bar soap is, however, more popular as those who spare money use it alongside the powder laundry detergent since the majority of the population handwash their clothes. For poorer members of the community, laundry bar soap is all they use for washing clothes. The bar soap is also used by the majority for dishwashing, bathing, and all other cleaning needs.

76-year-old Kasaija, however, argues that because Uganda has seen worse, it makes sense to see the current situation with some optimism.

“During Amin’s (Idi Amin) I used pawpaw leaves to wash, but I am not advocating for that, but you can use different alternatives,” he says.

The issue of government officials referencing the use of pawpaw leaves due to the high price of laundry bar soap first came to light at the beginning of March when social media started sharing a screenshot with an alleged statement that was made by Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

In the quote, the Prime Minister allegedly told Ugandans to stop complaining about the price of laundry bar soap, as she had personally had to use pawpaw leaves in the years before the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power. The Prime Minister, however, later disowned the quote, saying it was a deep fake doctored by detractors of the government.

PM Nabbanja (Centre) faced heavy scrutiny when she suggested Ugandans revert to the use of pawpaw leaves in lieu of laundry bar soap (C) Ekyooto Uganda

Laundry bar soap is an emotive issue in Uganda because, alongside sugar, salt, and kerosene, it was one of the commodities whose shortage represented the failure of Uganda’s economy in the 1970s and 1980s when the country had been wrecked by political instability.

According to manufacturers of the product, the increase in the price of laundry soap was sparked by the government in July 2021, when a 10 percent import duty on crude palm oil was introduced. Crude palm oil is used in the manufacture of cooking oil and laundry bar soap.

Following the introduction of the duty on crude palm oil, manufacturers say their costs have increased and as a result, the price of cooking oil and laundry bar soap had to increase.

Players in the business of oils and cleaning products say that it was no longer tenable to import and then refine crude palm oil once Uganda introduced that tax.

The manufacturers say that because of the tax they now import crude palm oilen, which is a refined version of crude palm oil. The oilen is mostly used to make cooking oil, although it is refined for some ingredients to make cleaning products including laundry bar soap.

The manufacturers also require palm stearin and palm fatty acid, to produce cleaning products including laundry soap.

Showcase of pawpaw leaves soap in Uganda (C) YouTube

Mr. Kasaija, however, says that the increased cost of soap and cooking oil wasn’t provoked by the Uganda government’s decision. He instead blames the drought in Brazil that has affected the production of different vegetable oils, increased demand from China and India for crude palm oil, and Covid-19 which has affected shipping costs, crude oil prices, and availability of workers.

In addition to laundry bar soap, Uganda is experiencing an increase in the price of cooking oil and fuel.

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