By Besi Andrew
“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
When it first emerged out of the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019, not many in Uganda ever imagined it would rapidly become a global health nuisance – a pandemic.
In Uganda, it appeared a week after president Museveni first placed us in lockdown. For many in Uganda, this was the first time they had ever heard of “lockdown”. It was the first time, save for those fortunate to be married, many had ever experienced “curfew”!!
Esperanza is a 31 year old mother of three. Together with a friend, she rents a “lock-up” in an arcade along Kampala’s Luwum street. Her ware of trade – Business suits for the corporate ladies. For five months last year, starting in March, she adopted a soldierly discipline and braved the disruptions brought on by a Pandemic-19 lockdown.
When she, like many a Ugandan, returned to her shop towards the end of the year, she was met with a demand for rent from her landlord. How can I pay rent yet we were in a lockdown? Does a lockdown not fall under the legally acceptable force majeure?!
Kazahuura hails from Bwera (Sembabule) in our cattle corridor. Together with his wife and four children, they have reared Ankole cattle for nearly forty years. His wife belongs to a women led enterprise that is a beneficiary of Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Program (UWEP). With funding from UWEP, they were able to set up a dairy business in Matete town. This business buys milk from farmers and sells it to processors in Mbarara, Masaka and Kampala.
Like Esperanza, they too adopted a soldierly discipline – adhering to all terms of our lockdown last year. Unlike Esperanza, they did manage to sell some milk albeit in very reduced quantity and price.
For five years now, Mwenda has owned and managed a fleet of 77 boda-bodas in Kabarole. Each boda-boda has assigned to it a rider who earns a commission of 15% on each passenger ride he/she makes.
Last year’s lockdown was brutal on his business’s income. This is because, unlike Kampala and its suburb districts of Wakiso and Mukono, most homes in Kabarole only hail a boda-boda as a means of transport between villages. Boda-bodas are not generally used for delivery of merchandise.
Like Esperanza and Kazahuura, Mwenda and his riders all adopted a soldierly discipline and braved lockdown.
On the 23rd day of June 2020, a day after president Museveni’s 16th address on Pandemic-19, as i now refer to the Covid-19, Africa had recorded a high total of 315,380 cases with 8,339 deaths. Uganda’s tally of this high figure – 774 cases. Fortunately, and some believe, by God’s infinite grace, Uganda had recorded zero deaths.
Clearly then, by adopting a soldierly discipline, Ugandans such as Esperanza, Kazahuura and Mwenda had decisively dealt a blow to the Covid-19 disease. The result was that “Lockdown” was eased in June of 2020.
Unfortunately, just one year later, Uganda was on June 18th once again put under lockdown by H.E. president Museveni. This painful decision had been informed by the rapidly rising cases of Covid-19 leading to a steep increase in fatalities. I will show you a sliver.
On June 22, we had a high of 71,543 confirmed cases with 660 deaths. 9 days later, on July 1st, Uganda’s confirmed Pandemic-19 cases had increased to 82,852 cases with 1,910 dead. And on July 7th, the numbers had once again increased to 86,140 confirmed cases with 2,062 dead.
Over the past couple of weeks, demoralising messaging by sections of our political class doubling as clerics, social media influencers, traders’ representatives et cetera have tried to rouse Esperanza, Kazahuura, Mwenda and the mass of our citizens to disregard our current lockdown measures. They argue that our economy has taken a big enough hit and will not be able to recover.
Some point to yet to be proved corruption by some at our Ministry of Health and within the team assembled to advise on Pandemic-19.
They neglect the opportunity cost of allowing uncontrolled migration of the SARS-Cov-2 virus to our society and economy by not adopting Esperanza’s soldierly discipline.
By adopting Luther’s mantra – out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope – citizens like the young Esperanza and the sensible Mwenda, are calling upon us to RISE up and defend the very fabric of what constitutes our Nation State from this Pandemic-19!!
To return to our healthy position from last June is to once again emerge victorious. It is to return to our process of social-economic transition to a modern prosperous state.
This is why this lockdown, though painful to the majority of us, was necessary.
The writer is a Communication Assistant with MoICT&NG.