KAMPALA – Can Uganda do it
Can Uganda manage the crisis and recover from it? It is difficult to talk about recovery before we see the magnitude of the problem. I believe Uganda is yet to take stock of its losses. I believe the worst hasn’t happened yet both in terms of number of infected and death and losses in the economy. The economic shut down has just started, the hotel and tourist industry which depends on the international guests reports cancelled bookings and about 90% drop in business. Hotels have empty rooms and yet they have overheads to meet! Big hotels have already laid off staff.
With closure of educational institutions, supplies of food stuffs and printed stationary among other things used by these institutions have started experiencing problems. Hotels have closed. Businesses have all over a sadden collapsed. Entebbe international airport has been closed to passenger traffic and the airline business is collapsing. All airlines globally have reported losses. Our country’s “Mugole” Uganda Airlines which is expected to make losses for 7 years will definitely report higher losses. A two week ban on public transport will lead to collapse of a thousand of businesses and bankruptcy of individuals. Many boda boda owners buy these bodas on credit and if they cannot pay they will lose them. The majority of them live hand to mouth and cannot survive for several days without an income.
Markets have been closed. Thousands of ordinary Ugandans cannot afford renting fixed shops for their business, many of them are in established markets and a larger number go on to the streets where they hawk from. Industries are closing down, most workers walk to work or use taxis or boda bodas without bodas working in the next two weeks these businesses have to close. The organized sector will shut down without any directive from government.
Foreign investors who dominate Uganda’s organized sector, as I said in my earlier article, are sitting on the fence.
With a pending national election in the country, they are reluctant to invest not knowing the outcome of elections. But besides this, they too have a similar coronavirus problem in their mother countries. That problem needs to be resolved before they think about the investments in Uganda.
But there is a brighter side of this story. The majority of Ugandans are in agriculture and the rains are on. Unless killed by the virus, people will continue to till their land.
The economic activities in the rural areas will continue though not normally. It is possible that they may not be affected much by the shutdown. But without the link to the organized sector, production and marketing will be affected. For insistence depending on how long the shutdown will last, the traders who market the agricultural products may have left town because of shutdown. This may distort markets and affect the agriculture production in the economy.
The effects of coronavirus on the economy will be felt slowly though we are not sure whether African economies will be affected like Italy, Spain. In terms of numbers dead my fear there may be higher figures of death due to the unfortunate slow understanding of the problem and absence of medical facilities to handle the problem. It is time that government came up to play its rightful role in the country, the President should have special committees one on health and another on the economy to manage the crisis.
The health committee should be about creating awareness throughout country about the problem, the committee should also monitor the infections in the country and help treatment of infected people. There should be some effort into research into what this problem is by this committee. There is a lot of information floating around on what the problem is and how to tackle it. Some of it false.
China did this and they have good information on this virus. Of all people infected it is a small number that actually dies. Why do they die and why don’t others don’t die? There is information about lemon and honey, chloroquine and all other possible interventions, do they really work? We can only be informed through research. But the biggest task is averting the misery created by this health hazard manifesting itself through economic hardships.
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.