KAMPALA – Uganda’s Experience
Policy formulation and decision making in times of crisis are not an easy.
President Museveni has been on public media several times announcing measures that are intended to safe guard the lives of Ugandans during this Corona Virus crisis. some detractors even found a problem with that. Because of the seriousness of the problem it required an authentic person, the fountain of honor in the country to make the pronouncements. These policy measures are from lessons learned from elsewhere. Government made assessment of where we are and what needed to be done. What am sure about is that everybody agrees on the policy objectives, saving the lives of Ugandans ensuring that they do not contract the disease and if they do, that we are able to quickly establish who it is, test the person and possibly treat them.
To be able to contain the Coronavirus there is need for a shutdown the economy for some time to prevent infections moving from one person to another. This is a decision to achieve the government objective. This is because the nature of the infection is such that its unknown and is carried in many ways. We are talking about air born, getting it on surfaces, on doors, door locks, car doors, inside vehicles, anywhere. This makes it very dangerous. But how do we as a country achieve this objective of saving lives. Reducing contact among people is one way of preventing spread of the disease hence the shutdown. Washing hands frequently and wearing masks besides dietary measures. As explained reducing contact especially in slums and rural areas is not simple task. But even then, what are the consequences of shutting down an economy.
It’s important for us to understand the nature of our society as we evolve and implement the policies that are intended to safe guard our lives. The structure of the Ugandan economy, the way in which our societies are organized provides a very important limitation in what is happening right now. If you are to go by developed country methods. But it is also offers a unique opportunity to address the issue. We are a basically an agricultural economy. 60% of our people are in agricultural production. 80% of population live in rural area. On the positive side, unless if rains fail, these people can feed themselves. Food distribution would not be an issue. It is easy to spot an “intruder” into our villages. The intruder may be virus carrier. Villages may therefore be able to fend off the virus if sensitized. If rural people don’t have food, the country will have a nightmare. A policy to distribute food in rural will have a problem but the existence of the LC I, that uniqueness I have mentioned, make it easy to get to people if the food is there and it is the policy. Our housing is not organized. It is in a few towns that we have organized housing. The rest is a mess. It is not easy to access people in slums. A policy to distribute food will be cumbersome. It is not easy to distribute food to people in urban areas because housing system has no structures. But again, the LC system would come to bear. A major weakness which unfortunately is increasingly a virtue defining this country is insincerity of people. Even in such circumstances, some people would try to cheat! Even those distributing may get involved in receiving money from food beneficiaries. The distributors may also sell the food!
Every policy requires activities, what are these activities that are supposed to be done to enable that objective to be achieved. These activities have been listed in the various directives that have come up. The Ministry of Health, Works, Education, Finance, Police, Army and all relevant ministries have come with activities that need to be undertaken. Every activity has a financial implication therefore there is need for a budget. It seems these budgets have also been made. There has been a public dispute of the ICT Ministry budget!
And thereafter there is need for an organizational structure.
Who is going to do what? I heard the President mentioning that the Prime Minister’s office will oversee. I think there is need for a task force (it is already in place) to be able to ensure the policies / directives are implemented well knowing the constraints in terms of budget and structure. The LC system is one of the best administrative structures in the whole world. It is been has there for some time and it’s been tested. Of course, given the fact that leaders are not paid a salary they have tended to live off the people whom they govern! Not their problem though.
If you want a recommendation for a passport or anything else you normally pay some money to the officials since they have no budget. But this LC is what controls the village life so if somebody falls sick in a village this person cannot definitely reach the RDC, this person can only reach the LC 1 chairperson. And the LC 1 should be able to reach the LC 3 who should be able to inform the RDC.
These are the structures that we need to be able to implement directives. But for these structures to work, the people in them need to be sensitized, need to be trained in handling these cases. For instance, right now in the villages you need to know who has come into the village from town. This information can widely be provided by the LC 1 because they know who is on the ground even who is falling sick. These reports can be obtained from LC 1’s as long as they are enabled, trained and facilitated.
So, as we implement our objectives of safe guarding Ugandans, it is important that the organizational structure to implement it is good, people are trained and the budgets are thought through. We are in the process of distributing foods. Who is going to receive the food? How do you ensure it reaches the target? What happens if it is sold! This is where the army comes in to play an important role as part of the organizational structure.
What I have not heard though is a policy on the economy. When the virus is tamed the country has to restart the economy.
What is the plot? What are the activities? Where is the structure? As I mentioned in one of my earlier articles, the corporate graveyard may be filled with unlikely giants. What is the business recovery programme? Government has an opportunity to shape the economy into the direction it wants. We are waiting for pronouncements of ideological direction and concrete measures to get Uganda out of not only the economic mess brought by the Coronavirus, but also, out of perpetual poverty. Again China has the lessons.
It’s not easy to make policy and implement it. This is one of the challenges of leadership. But how have Ugandans reacted. There is a mixture of reactions, largely based on what people know and I believe, social status. The middle class who are mainly salaried people working in offices somewhere responded very well. They are too scared to do anything and they watch television every day and scared to death because they have understood the potency of the virus in destroying lives. Listening to what has been happening in Italy, Spain, and now the USA who have the doctors, infrastructure and money, one cannot fail to appreciate how dangerous the virus is and the fact that it cannot be detected.
Other than a few hiccups, they have largely accepted the lock down and expect that this can come to pass without the challenge faced by rich countries. They have to deal with children day in day out. There are also reports of challenge between spouses! But these are normal. Most of these people now wake up and jog. They are watching TV, soaps to kill the boredom.
The business people in the middle-class category appear to be the type that have continued to work. They have business to do. They work possibly because they have not had personal experience of effects of the virus. They tend to be relaxed. But they have slowed down because business is really down except food business.
The response of the “down trodden”, as they are known, is what is worrying. A large number of them haven’t seen or even if they have seen they haven’t appreciated the problem. It looks far and remote! For this reason, many haven’t changed their life styles. Of course, there is also a compelling need to live. Most of these people are what you call “mere ya leero”. They live hand to mouth. Day to day. Their lives are sustained through daily activities. Stopping for a single day means they may not have a meal. These are the people government may distribute food to. Looking at social media there are many reactions to the President speech and to what is happening. The reactions range from support to opposing. Some are humorous, others are irritating, some are funny, others are simply stupid.
• Engaba ye Mmere nga bweneeba as per district
Mbarara- Rice & Meat
Kiruhura -Rice & Chicken
Kampala & Wakiso- Posho and Beans
• Supposing it was distributing money to the vulnerable people instead of the maize flour and beans, then you can guess how much would have gotten to the intended recipients!
• I have officially taken over the kitchen during this quarantine. Kitchen work makes you busy from morning to evening. Don’t want to get depressed. Just winding up.
• Uganda Law Society is challenging the legality of the Quarantine Lockdown, Curfew & all that emanates therefrom.
All this could have been avoided if H.E had simply included Lawyers amongst the ‘Essential’ people.
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.