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Gas and food prices are rising in Kenya, too, driven by the war in Ukraine

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Kenya is in the midst of a contentious presidential election campaign, and the No. 1 issue on voters' minds - inflation. Price hikes have affected every aspect of life, including the street food. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Javid Molonzi's mandazi stand is right next to the chicken shop. Every day he makes hundreds of mandazis. They're like fluffier donut holes that Kenyans eat on the go. Amid the bustle of the city, Molonzi carefully rolls out his dough.

JAVID MOLONZI: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: The price of mandazis has been one of the few constants in Kenya lately. They're still about $0.04 a pop.

MOLONZI: (Non-English language spoken). It is still five shillings each, but it is so costly on their side.

PERALTA: The price of flour and cooking oil have risen, so they have had to make some adjustments. He uses a sharp knife to cut two different sizes of dough.

MOLONZI: You see the difference in this?

PERALTA: Yeah. Yeah. It's a big difference. Yeah.

MOLONZI: Before, a mandazi could be a meal, but inflation means that the mandazis, while still delicious, have gotten significantly smaller.

PERALTA: Have your customers complained that the mandazis are too small?

MOLONZI: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: Sana (ph) sana - very, very much. The Kenyan government says that inflation isn't terrible at about 7%, but economist XN Iraki says it's likely much higher than that. He notices it every time he fills up the car.

XN IRAKI: I remember I used to fill my car with about 5,000 shilling. Now, it's about almost 8,000 shillings.

PERALTA: That's a significant price.

IRAKI: This is very significant. I have to now plan my trips when I'm going somewhere.

PERALTA: Iraki says Kenya just hasn't gotten a break. It started with COVID. Then the war in Ukraine sent oil prices soaring. And now there's a historic drought and an election season, which, in Kenya, tend to be violent and contentious and bad for the economy.

IRAKI: This is a conference of three parties, so maybe three big shocks to economy. And everybody is feeling the effect.

PERALTA: Kenyans are seeing things they haven't seen in decades. In April, there was a fuel shortage that kept cars off the streets, and at the moment, getting U.S. dollars has become difficult. And here, the government has a history of being hands off. Kenyans are left to fend on their own. Iraki says it's made them resourceful.

IRAKI: They have learned that you're on your own. So whether COVID comes, whether Ukraine comes, we have learned to be on ourselves, and that has forced us to become very resilient.

PERALTA: On the streets, Kenyans joke that cooking oil is so valuable, you need an armed escort when you score a liter. The mama mbgoas, the ladies who sell vegetables on the streets, say even the price of potatoes is up. Jane Nyeri says they come to Nairobi on trucks, and those trucks need expensive fuel.

JANE NYERI: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: For a sack of potatoes, she used to buy them for 1,800. Now it's 35 to 4,000.

PERALTA: She puts her hands up. What can she do?

So how are you living these days?

NYERI: (Non-English language spoken, laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: They're surviving. They are trying to survive within this province.

PERALTA: It's a refrain I hear over and over across this city. We're not living. We're surviving. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.