MOGADISHU, Somalia — Thousands of angry Somalis rioted Monday over rising food prices and the collapse of the nation's currency, culminating in clashes with government troops and armed shopkeepers that killed at least five protesters, witnesses and officials said.
Shops and markets throughout Mogadishu quickly shut their doors as protesters, including many women and children, stoned storefronts and chanted slogans accusing traders of cheating them. Within an hour, their ranks swell to tens of thousands, and the riot spread to all 13 districts of the capital.
"I've never demonstrated before, but I'm not ashamed because if you can't eat, you will do whatever you can," said Abdullahi Mohammed, 57, of Mogadishu. "Before I was eating three times a day, but now sometimes it's not even once."
Somalia's beleaguered population is coping with a civil war that began with the collapse of the government in 1991. But recently, the Horn of Africa nation's food industry, which previously thrived thanks to private traders, has been grappling with soaring inflation, spurred by an explosion of counterfeit currency over the last year and the global spike in food prices. Somalia imports at least 60 percent of its grain and its local crops this year were devastated by a cycle of drought and flooding.
As a result, prices for rice, maize, sorghum and other cereals are up between 100 and 400 percent over the past year. A sack of rice that sold for $32 only one month ago is going for $52.
At the same time, the nation's currency, the shilling, has lost half its value against the U.S. dollar over the past year, requiring consumers to carry sacks of money just to buy common grocery items.
Somalia joins a growing list of African countries where rising food prices have led to violence, including Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Egypt. Monday's riots followed a smaller outbreak in the Somali capital last month. Around the same time, rioters also looted two World Food Program trucks in Mogadishu, apparently encouraged by a local government official who announced on the radio that people should vent their frustration against the WFP convoy rather than steal from local shops. The stolen food eventually was returned to the WFP, with a government apology, according to a spokesman for the program.
In recent days, unrest returned when shop owners, who had been pressuring customers to pay in dollars, said they no longer would accept old, worn-out shillings.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.