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Children wash sheep with soap before they are offered for sale for the upcoming Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, on the beach in Dakar, Senegal on July 30, 2020.

The Associated Press

Even in the best of times, many Muslims scramble to afford a sheep to slaughter on Eid al-Adha, a display of faith that can amount to an entire month’s income. Now, the financial pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic are straining families across Africa even more as they prepare for the Islamic holy day.

From Morocco to Senegal to Nigeria, the important religious tradition of purchasing a ram is simply beyond financial reach for some this year. And even those who can afford a sheep are getting smaller ones since prices in some parts of the continent have doubled compared to last year.

“The situation is really complicated by the coronavirus. It’s a tough market,” said Oumar Maiga, a livestock trader in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city. “People are not coming in the way they usually would. We are in a situation we’ve never seen in other years.”

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As families cut back, hawkers who sell fancy carving knife sets to drivers stuck in traffic also are doing less business for Eid al-Adha, which will be observed Friday. The tailors who sew elaborate holiday boubous and vendors who sell barbecue grills by roadsides are hurting, too.

In Senegal’s capital, Dakar, thousands of sheep oblivious to their fate stood on display outside the Leopold Senghor stadium. With just 48 hours to go before the holiday expected Friday, Abdou Karim Seck struggled to find a deal.

“My budget is 120,000 CFA ($206), and the sheep I’m being offered at this price are too small,” he said. His sales as a trader have been falling for nearly three months now. “They wouldn’t even cost 80,000 CFA ($137) in normal times.”

During Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, Muslims commemorate the prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith by slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor. It’s also a time when families gather to prepare and enjoy a large feast, and many typically shell out for new outfits for the whole family.

But Malika Bounhi, who lives in Morocco, said she won’t be taking part in Eid celebrations for the first time. Bills have been piling up since she lost her private sector job due to the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

“It is heartbreaking that I won’t be able to bring joy to my children during Eid,” she said.

Prices have skyrocketed in Morocco because of intercity travel restrictions that have upended the supply of sheep, said Saad Azizi, a regional manager for Morocco’s sheep and goat association. Prices also were pushed up after the government closed several markets for failing to comply with health measures.

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Abdou Ka, a young salesman from the interior of Senegal, remembers a “big rush” of customers wanting sheep at this time last year.

“This year, I’m a bit worried. We only see a few customers, and they have a low budget,” Ka said. “It’s because of the coronavirus. I have the impression that people are struggling to find money. Only civil servants come in large numbers. And some of them don’t agree to pay much.”

The cheapest ram a person can find in Dakar goes for about 80,000 CFA ($137), though more handsome ones can be sold for four times that amount. Unhappy buyers say their money doesn’t seem to be going as far this year.

“I want a good sheep for 225,000 francs ($387). What the sellers are offering me is not good,” said Mariama Thiare, a businesswoman. “Last year, I had a big sheep for the same amount.”

Some searching for deals have travelled further outside the capital, only to find nothing cheaper. Others who prepaid for their rams say now the sellers are demanding 25% more to get the animals delivered by Friday.

On Wednesday, Alioune Ndong said he still didn’t know how he’d come up with the money for his family’s feast, and he called on Senegal’s government to help struggling families like his.

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“COVID-19 has drained my money, said the tailor based in the town of Mbour outside the capital. “How do you expect me to be able to buy a ram? I pray God to be able to get one before Friday.”

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