KAMPALA – Since the 18th March 2020 presidential address, Uganda has been in a state of lockdown with travel restrictions, stay at home orders, closed social spaces among others. This has in a way increased the cost of doing business which has seen some industries which were labelled non-essential close shop while some have either laid-off workers, deferred payments of salaries or cut their wages by certain percentages. The impact of COVID-19 on everyone’s social and economic wellbeing is a reminder that the pandemic is not only a health crisis but something that denotes social, economic, psychological and political consequences to nations and individuals.
For instance, the imposition of social distancing measures and stay at home orders is likely to culminate into adverse social ramifications in mental health deterioration, domestic violence, early marriages that may be more perilous than the Coronavirus itself. Sociologist Smithsimon summarizes well the impact of social isolation thus “People cannot live isolated from others, and avoid doing so even for short periods. Even partial isolation is dangerous, and sometimes permanently damaging, to a substantial proportion of people.”
Perhaps, fearful of the implications of extended lockdowns on the rights, education and holistic development of children, some United Nations Agencies have called for easing of restrictions which must be carried out based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risks to education, public health and socio-economic factors. The argument is that many children in the Global South often rely on schools for protection from harmful practices like early marriages, child labour and domestic violence and also rely on formal education for nutrition.
Children in such countries like Uganda are being deprived of such protections as a result of COVID19 instigated lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus and this is resulting into approximately 370 million children are missing out on nutritious meals which are a lifeline for poor families, exposed to harmful practices like early marriages and child labour. It should be noted that Uganda makes an annual loss of 18 trillion shillings because of teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
While it is agreeable that lockdowns are essential in curtailing disease outbreaks that have no treatment or vaccines, it is also important that consideration on socio-economic wellbeing and the political disruptions are made. For instance, the United States could afford a lockdown as they were able to follow lockdown regulations with a 3 trillion dollar package to bail out industries that would struggle, cover the unemployment benefits of the affected workforce and afford a US $1000 paycheck. Such a trend has been replicated in many countries in the Global North like Canada, Britain among others.
This is hard to achieve in struggling economies of the Global South and copy and paste interventions can no longer work. In Uganda, more people have been killed by the Local Defence Units and Security Organs in enforcing the lockdown yet no life has been lost to COVID19 yet. Moreso, all that was available to help te vulnerable was UGX 59 billion to buy 6 kilograms of maize flour and 3 kilograms of beans to the 1.5 million urban poor who were termed as the hand to mouth workforce. This has created an impression of a government that has no capacity to look after its citizens and is likely to pose more security threats as Rugagamu noted in 1993 that “a state that does not have the capacity to provide for its people the basic necessities of life… food. Shelter and clothing… is essentially insecure”.
Conclusively, after about two months of lockdown, it is time to lift restricts in a manner that balances the socio-economic and political realities with the public health demands of containing the spread of the virus. Such a reopening should be gradual and phased beginning with critical sectors like manufacturing, supply chain, transport and can get into schools and the hospitality industry. All this should be reinforced by regulations like compulsory wearing of masks, hand gloves, maintaining of social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing among others. This is necessary to add more fuel and oxygen to Uganda’s economy whose growth in terms of real GDP has been projected to reduce from 4.9% to about 3.9% because of Coronavirus.
Prosper Mubangizi is a Policy Analyst with Parliament Watch. He is also a consultant on Governance, Post Legislative Scrutiny and Youth Inclusion.