The unknown dangers and threats from COVID-19 pandemic entry into Uganda in February of this year pushed all the abrasive actors to the edge forcing them to comply without complaints against government measures including many drastic actions like banning large gatherings, mass transportation, closure of businesses, imposing night curfew, and an extended countrywide lockdown. This was in according to many, a vote of confidence in Government and particularly, President Yoweri Museveni’s able leadership.
But the shaken voices are now beginning to emerge, occasionally exploding as Kizza Besigye and his sidekick Ibrahim Semujju Nganda did last week accusing President Museveni of exploiting COVID-19 to grow his politic strength for the 2021 electoral advantage. However, somehow, the Uganda media, has largely ignored them for a while, which is good,
Now, to accuse Museveni of exploiting COVID-19and other national miseries to secure his political visibility, is something of low bar even for Besigye, well-known for often being very basic and nauseating. In June 1981, there was no COVID, but Besigye, nevertheless, on his own volition, followed Museveni into the Luwero jungles, which marked Besigye’s own political beginning and has enjoyed the full limelight to-date albeit with a steady diminishing return. Museveni isn’t the only sitting president steering their respective countries out of local, regional or global crises from which some have fallen. Therefore, a president in times of crises, don’t always emerge from beds of perfumed roses.
The lockdown is now in its seventh week and counting unless, something really drastic happens to flatten the infection curve because the numbers are rising, mostly from long-distance cargo truck drivers from across the East African region, although we trust that Uganda’s health professionals will contain and roll it back in good time.
Slowly, but surely each passing day, even a casual observer will notice that from all directions into Kampala, there are more vehicles without the required movement stickers causing traffic jams towards Kampala. This, plus the fact that many business premises, markets, road and street vendors, and shops of all kinds are already operating giving the sad impression that much of the daytime lockdown isn’t working effectively because they are being ignored mostly due to necessity. All the suburbs of Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono are teeming with daily activities, much as most places upcountry. Government would be more advised to put enforcement measures on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for these businesses to open and operate rather than trying to stop them.
The security teams deployed to enforce the restrictions on vehicle movements and other measures appear already exhausted, compromised, or unwilling to be tough because when they do, they have been rudely rebuked, or even punished swiftly without anyone including their immediate superiors standing for them. They feel abandoned, and enthusiastic to enforce the rules.
As government ponders gradual and phased easing of the lockdown, it may be prudent that the curfew as a security measure is maintained for a while as people adjust slowly to life of normalcy, otherwise vagabonds may strike to make quick gains.
The ongoing battle over workers money at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) with some people demanding that the laws be reviewed to enable savers who want to access a fraction of their benefits do so, is another example of a post-Covid19 fight on the policy front. As the debate rages, others think that is kin to eating the seed set aside for the next planting season simply because people at home are hungry, or having an ATM machine next to a bar for boozers to have easy pick if they run broke.
Then, there is the real fight that could turn bloody between KCCA and hosts of its clients, the boda boda, matatus, buses, market and street vendors over its proposed long overdue reorganization of the city to make it more livable and reducing the cost of doing business. Surely public transport, cycling and walking around safe streets in Kampala should be the habit to adopt as the new normal. Building metropolitan network of infrastructure, should prevent private and government vehicles on non-essential and non-authorised errands of out Kampala.
People entering Kampala should either walk, cycle or be bussed to reduce on environmental pollution and traffic congestion. After COVID-19, we should drive less in Kampala, after all cars take up a lot of space, kill time and people, while increasing the cost of doing business.
Government should create incentives within Kampala metro area to encourage cycling and this could include tax exemption on bicycles that are specifically marked or youth owned businesses that hire them at low daily, weekly or monthly rentals. Even in this very limited context, it should be straight forward that these measures can keep us safe from urban road accidents and promote healthy body exercises.
A successful road reorganization would also end treating transport crisis in Kampala as bun fights between motorists and cyclists, or a class war of the rich against the poor, that has always been a dead end. Hopefully, the pressure from coronavirus will get things done correctly.
Opondo, is the Government Spokesperson and head of Uganda Media Centre