For weeks now there is barely activity in Kabalagala. The silence, in an area that is well known for hosting parties till the wee hours, would fool one into thinking the Presidential directive on closure of bars on March 22, has hit Kampala’s nightlife hard.
But Kampala offers one of Africa’s liveliest cities at night. And that reputation was built on the patronage of some serious party goers. For some of the revelers that used to patronize Kampala’s night spots in the good times, the closure of bars doesn’t mean the hanging out has stopped.
The hanging out, has just changed form, to take into account the measures put in place to slowdown the spread of Covid-19.
Tonny Otoa of the Head of Enterprise Development at Stanbic Bank is one those people that would in the days before social distancing spend some nights hanging out.
Then there was no party
For Mr Otoa, hanging out in the times of Covid 19 means sitting with his favourite gadget, playing good music in the background, sipping on any choice of the alcoholic drinks in his Cabinet and using zoom or any other video app, to create a virtual bar, where he can catch up with friends within Kampala or any other part of the world.
Mr Otoa says that while internet based hangouts, lack the physicality that human nature craves, virtual hangout has its advantages.
“I cannot slap a friend on the back to emphasise a point, but the internet facilitates deeper conversation, as eye contact is less likely on a video chat,” he says.
The use of video chat to hangout during this period is something that has been adopted in many parts of the world.
In a recent conversation, with a friend who had just lost a colleague to Covid19 in the United Kingdom, it emerged that people were even coming together to mourn fallen friends using video chat. Using video chat they create an environment close to the traditional African vigil that usually involves sitting around a fire, drinking, eating and sharing stories in remembrance of the person who died.
The choice of hanging out, via video chat is the responsible and mature one. But as we are finding out from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and several agencies trying to popularize social distancing, as means to slowdown the spread of Covid19, this is something that has not been adopted by a good number of millennials.
As a result, WHO and several governments have been appealing to millennials to consider the possibility of infecting loved ones. Research, has also since found out that Covid19 can kill young people too, although older people and those with underlying conditions are still the most vulnerable.
In the United States of America for example, there have been reports of college students out on spring break going to the beach, to have fun.
We shall party on
It appears that this same spirit is active in Kampala’s middle class neighborhoods, where house parties are now the new way to circumvent the Covid19 rules that have been put in place by the government.
For this group, no signs of people moving around after the curfew is no guarantee that they are social distancing.
The curfew which starts at 7pm and ends at 6.30 am in the morning is only a sign for these millennials to move to their homes and enjoy the nights together in groups. That way security forces that have been deployed in different neighborhoods to implement President Yoweri Museveni’s directives cannot touch them.
As a journalist, I witnessed this on work related walks around the areas of Kisasi, Ntinda, Bukoto, Najjera, Munyonyo and Bugolobi. Between 4pm – 6pm one notices an increase in the number of people stepping out of their homes and apartments heading straight to the supermarket counter to get a bottle of preferred brands of whisky, cigarettes or even carton of beer.
Why are you buying this much alcohol? Are you hosting a party after the lockdown? I ask someone I saw buying alcohol. Arthur Ssali a resident of Kisasi- Kulambiro, an acquaintance, tells me the party never stopped this side of town.
“Actually I even doubt the alcohol I have bought will be enough for the guys who are coming over to my place this evening,” he says.
For a moment I kept having many questions like, how is this guy going to host this party at this time when the President has directed non-essential workers to stay home.
Do they spend the night?
How and what time will the guests be able to come or leave? Even those who are brave enough to use shortcuts, how will they get past the security operatives manning the different neighborhoods to arrest anyone roaming around?
Because of the many questions I put towards Ssali, I win myself an invite to the party. From that moment on, the only thing on mind was seeing how a party can be organized in such times and the number of people that would turn up.
After a long wait at about 6.00pm an hour to curfew, the first group showed up, five guys, each with a different alcohol brand they kept with Ssali.
“Gwe guy teleka ekyupa zaffe” (Keep our bottles safely), one said.
Even before they could settle in, there was another group approaching the door. They were girls, laughing and loud enough. I could have assumed they were passers-by, but they called on Ssali to come out. At this point it was easy for me tell that the social distancing the government urges people to faithfully implement had nothing on this group of people. In total 12 people attended the party.
As I attempted to ask one of the girls, how long it had taken them to make it to Mr Ssali’s house, Maurice, one of the guys shouted; “I wish the government knew that you put on such outfits to come for a drink,” sending everyone into laughter.
Such parties require an effort of almost all in attendance, for instance, they started by re-organising the apartment to create the mood. Most of the chairs were taken out to create more space, cushions were placed in the windows to sound proof the room and at 10pm the party was on.
The host had organized different games including truth or dare, which was the highlight of the night as many people were forced to drink shots for failing to answer certain questions or participate in certain activities.
Past midnight you could easily tell none of these people was thinking of going back home and from a few whispers that night the party was going to go on till morning.
The music went on through the night till 5am when everyone had given up and slept off, on the cushions that earlier acted as sound proof for the loud music.
If we die we die
By then I was only counting to the hour of 6.30 am when the curfew will be over because my poor body was screaming for both rest and the need to get out of plastic chair I had earlier occupied to observe whatever was going on.
Of course, this was an illegal gathering of young people that had probably grown tired of staying in their houses. They did not observe any of the set precautions set to avoid the spread of Covid-19. For instance, there was neither a point to sanitise nor was social distancing implemented. As you may imagine, there was no temperature measurements taken at the entrance.
“If we die, we die,” was the answer I got when I inquired about the lack of precautions against Covid19.
I have since learnt that the house party that I attended in Kisaasi isn’t the only one. I have since had a few more conversations and found out that these precautions, alongside directives that have resulted in governments taking a decision to limit the movement of about two billion, globally have not taught a number of Kampala’s middleclass millennials anything.
Alcohol on delivery
Currently a number of bars and outlets are on lockdown, causing loss of jobs for waiters and waitresses. Some entrepreneurs will potentially lose capital, following over a month of closure of these bars.
The closure of these bars has translated into increased sales of alcohol for supermarkets and applications like Safe Boda and Jumia, which deliver different items to people’s houses.
According to the Jumia and Safe Boda websites, the couriering prices for most of alcoholic items range between shs 5,000 – shs 10,000 on delivery. Beer companies have also since jumped onto this opportunity and, will be seen on line calling out last delivery hours.
In places like South Africa, the sale of alcohol has been banned. In Uganda access to alcoholic drinks is still allowed, the hanging out model, has simply changed.
Millenials and Covid-19
World over, leaders have struggled to keep millenials at home since many are entitled and are not taking the virus serious.
One of the World Health Organization’s top officials in charge of fighting the coronavirus pandemic stark a warning for millennials and other young people about the threat of COVID-19 amid reports that some are shrugging off pleas from health officials to stay home.
“This is one of the most serious diseases you will face in your lifetime, and recognize that and respect it,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
While the risks of complications or death are much higher for older people and those with underlying health conditions, Aylward says COVID-19 is more dangerous for young people than many realize.