KAMPALA – What a global challenge. The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID 19). It has led to the near closure of capital of the world’s most powerful countries. Nobody other than God could ever do that. But the Virus has done it. Many of us who believe in God believe it is His works. Uganda is no exception. While many people, especially in the informal sector, are still on the streets, the formal sector has been shutting down. President Museveni has taken the lead in guiding the country where to go. He has issued several directives, all intended to ensure safety of Ugandans and all other people in the country.
The Global Shut Down
Following the first Presidential directive on closure of schools and other educational institutions and advice on eliminating non-essential travel, there was panic buying mainly by Kampala residents. Urban dwellers started stocking dry food to ensure that the 32-day voluntary isolation period does not catch them on the wrong side when they have no food. The panic buying led to skyrocketing of prices as there was sudden high demand especially for dry foods like Rice, Beans, Wheat flour among others. Globally the coronavirus pandemic was wreaking havoc in many developed countries with unsuspecting Italy being at the lead. The global economy had already started experiencing problems, China which has up to now been the world’s factory producing everything for everybody, had ground to a halt. The Corona virus was first reported there in December 2019. China had closed down various economic activities and ordered everybody indoors especially in Wuhan City. China has been the largest trading partner of literally every country. Most countries worldwide started slowing down their economic activities as a result of the shut down in China. Without goods coming from China business came to a standstill! Air travel which has been one of the world’s busiest business activities also grounded to a halt. Stock markets where money and shares are traded had also plunged.
The Problem begins in Uganda
In Uganda, most of our imports for consumer products have been from China. Traders realized they could not restock their businesses with China closed down. Big hotels that rely on foreign visitors went empty and some have closed down. There was a forced economic shut down in many sections of the economy. Since the virus was unknown to have started in China. Uganda started controlling its entry points especially Entebbe Airport which brings in people from various countries.
There was a fiasco at Entebbe Airport as passengers arrived from outside the country. For control purposes they subjected them to the 14-day quarantine period required to identify Coronavirus carries from abroad. Like any other typical Ugandan situation some people bribed their way out from the quarantine! A group of 50 Chinese escaped to Kampala! It is reported that money was passed below the table to allow them to go. Such people who did this were aiding murder, if they have not lost their jobs and if they are not in jail, again somebody else must have been corrupt! For aiding murder, such people deserve firing squad. (is that too strong)
Again, like any typical Ugandan situation there were accusations mostly false as always. One was that the hotels where people were quarantined belonged to “Abanene” (big shots) in government! That these “Banene” had arranged something for themselves. They made sure that their hotels are working. These passengers were being quarantined in initially was Central Inn Hotel in Entebbe town. The quarantine was at their cost and was US$ 100 per day! Of course, for an ordinary Ugandan this was on the higher side. Probably some others arrangements should have been made for them. I gather later it was done.
While meeting them at the Hotel, the Minister of Health led from the front. This event created an instant Ugandan hero in the Minister of Health Hon. Jane Aceng. when she told some muzungu to shut up. The typical reaction for an African when a muzugu speaks is meek. Colonial governments made sure that the colonized felt inferior in front of them. Today this is still widespread when Africans are dealing with bazungus. Many Africans will go out of their way to do unnecessary things to please them.
Following these events, President Museveni again took leadership. He took the difficult decision to lock boarders locking Ugandans out too! Leadership works better in periods of crisis and President Museveni demonstrated his leadership qualities. What should Uganda do when all her neighbors have reported cases of coronavirus infection and you don’t have? What should the leadership do to protect the vulnerable unsuspecting Ugandans? What should leadership do to protect the young ones in schools? Museveni showed leadership and did what he did in the interest of Ugandans. Of course, additional restrictions will come. No decision is without criticism or contrary views. He was criticized for the decision. But when there is death, you lead from the front and don’t mind the noise.
Museveni’s leadership in crisis period was demonstrated in early years of his Presidency. During the peak of HIV/Aids epidemic in the 1990s, he came out to talk about it openly and Uganda became an example worldwide of a country that was able to control HIV/Aids epidemic. The difference between HIV/Aids and coronavirus is that for the majority of HIV patients especially in Uganda, the transmission was through sexual contact. There was some degree of choice. For the coronavirus there is no choice, you can never tell where you got it from, a door handle, piece of cloth, a guard rail, a glass, a wash hand basin, a fellow passenger in a car, your spouse, a visitor to your home or a workmate among other possible sources. There is, therefore, need to be more controlling.
Juma Waswa Balunywa, is a scholar in management, leadership and entrepreneurship. He is also an academic administrator, who serves as the Principal of Makerere University Business School, a public institution of higher education in Uganda.