OFWONO OPONDO: Use COVID-19 Lockdown to Instill good Habits

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Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo
By :
Ofwono Opondo

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced Ugandans into a countrywide lockdown of almost forty days from March 20 when President Yoweri Museveni first dissolved large gatherings in schools, religious, political and cultural ceremonies including burials, and weddings. Mid this week, he extended the lockdown to May 5, keeping in place all measures of the past two weeks. These include ban on mass and private transportation, trading in non-essential goods, bars, solons and night curfew. Infections have been checked to 55 by mid-week,

Although many Ugandans confess being religious, observing forty days in Lent, and thirty for Ramadhan, in Christian and Islamic faiths respectively, they don’t seem to learn much from them. Usually, soon after lent and Ramathan, they return to their naughtiness of gluttonous consumption of food and drinks, lying and cheating, and other indulgences, perhaps the reason the gods haven’t been kind to us. The religious leaders, are mostly ignorant and self-seeking liars who pass for wisdom givers. Many people, including religious followers probably haven’t noticed that traditional churches, (Catholic and Anglican) are the largest estate holders including land, education and medical facilities in Uganda and yet don’t pay and continue resisting any suggestions that they should pay their due share in taxes.

For a start we now know that God and Jesus, don’t actually reside in the churches as buildings, but hopefully in the hearts of men and women. And so, does Allah. When church leaders obliged to the government measures of no church congregations but asked followers to deposit tithes on mobile money accounts, it sent me laughing because all-along many had said that religious institutions were disguised commercial businesses that should pay taxes.

And so, after COVID-19, most Christians should remain praying from their homes and only go to churches more for group fellowship rather than in the hope of finding Jesus Christ seated in those buildings. Burials too, even of most the famous, have become small and private affair, a practice that should be maintained.

Also, during this lockdown, no minister or MP has travelled abroad including for bench-marking on COVID-19 or medical treatment, implying that most foreign travels have been unnecessary, exaggerated or just extravagant. Many senior government officials had literally turned Entebbe airport into changing rooms for their non-stop foreign travels, the evidence of which, for instance, there have been many occasions when parliament couldn’t sit because both the Speaker and deputy were out of Uganda. Parliamentary committees too couldn’t conduct business because members were on foreign travels! We should calculate the savings made, and invest in small and medium businesses expected to be hit hardest. We should use COVID-19 experience and rebuild Mulago hospital to handle VIPs medical cases within Uganda. Ugandans should make their money and begin weaning ourselves off donors.

And if we continue steadfastly with regular and thorough hygiene measures of clean environment, hand and whole body-washing with water and soap, at home, offices and businesses premises, we should be able to knockout most health hazards including mosquitoes that cause malaria. Handwashing should eliminate cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, and diarrhea which also come directly from lack of basic hygiene in homes and communities.

Again, in the post-COVID-19 in Uganda, we should begin to trim our social spending on cultural and religious ceremonies like baptisms, weddings, funerals, and even academic graduations. Among friends, I have been a lone proponent of lean ceremonies on account of money. In fact, it is rare for me to participate in those ceremonies. It baffles to find a poor graduate or couples seeking to marry extending bowl-in-hand, for money to feed guests rather asking for business start-up capital. Uganda is a country that is upside down, where people are generous to give money towards graduation, wedding and burial expenses rather than supporting education tuition, medical bills or business venture capital. People easily heap money on the dead, and not a student out of school, and partly explains our being stuck in subsistence, and not progressing into entrepreneurship.

Also, this could be the time for KCCA and municipalities to harmonize and regulated lower-end commercial businesses like food markets, boda boda, and matatu transport industry. Upon return from the lockdown these businesses shouldn’t be permitted to operate as previously. There must be an all-round discipline, effectively enforced by KCCA and police for the good of those in the business and as well as the public. A trader, boda boda rider or taxi driver unwilling to comply with the instituted measures shouldn’t be allowed to operate, and there shouldn’t be presidential interventions or amnesty for them, driven by political expediency. These measures should include well marked and gazette stages, parks, telephone numbers, routes, work uniforms, and time of business operations.

Having experienced a largely vehicle free, or highly controlled traffic in major towns, the ministry of works, environment and trade should gazette non-motorised days when vehicles are either not allowed or regulated in towns. This will reduce expenses to individuals, pollution, save the environment, and create a drive towards physical fitness as many people walk or ride bicycles.

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Opondo, is the Government Spokesperson and head of Uganda Media Centre

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