Inside 100 days of lockdown

Sunday July 5 2020

A woman receives government relief  foo

A woman receives government relief food in Kisenyi Village Urban Council 1 in Kawempe Division in Kampala on April 4. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA.  

By Isaac Mufumba

It is 109 days since President Museveni communicated a March 16 Cabinet decision to place the country under a partial lockdown for 32 days as one of the measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

During the lockdown, more than 40 restrictions, including the closure of education institutions; suspension of mass gathering such as political rallies, communal prayers, big weddings and funerals, were put in place.

Other measures included freeze on public transport; closure of airports and borders to passenger and pedestrian traffic; and suspension of operations of bars, saloons, discotheques, gyms and open markets; closure of shopping malls and arcades; and a nationwide dusk to dawn curfew.

Most of the restrictions have since been lifted, albeit with some conditions, but others such as the curfew remain in force and arcades, open markets, salons, bars and schools among others, remain closed.

During his most recent address on Covid-19 late last month, Mr Museveni acknowledged that he has been under immense pressure to lift all the restriction.

“In particular, some of the stakeholders have been petitioning the leadership to, more or less, completely re-open all the activities of the country,” he said.

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Fallouts
For once, Ugandans seemed to have ralled around the President when the lockdown was first announced, but the consensus has since disappeared.

The first people to call on him to reopen the country were religious leaders, who had earlier joined him at State House to pray for the nation when the lockdown was first announced.

First was Mufti Sheikh Ramadhan Mubajje who, on May 24, called for reopening of houses of worship and allow them operate with strict adherence to standard operating procedures.

“If public transport is to be allowed to operate, then even places of worship should be re-opened so that people can congregate to pray for their country to overcome this pandemic,” he said.

More calls were made on May 31 by Anglican and Catholic Church leaders, Archbishop Samuel Kaziimba and Kampala Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.

Others came earlier during this week when pastors in churches in Tororo, Busoga and Bugisu regions made similar appeals.

The church leaders might as well be forgiven for wondering why places of worship, which can actually practice social distancing, should remain under lock and key while minibuses where passengers sit less than one metre apart are allowed to ply the roads.

The above are not the only contradictions around the restrictions that have remained in force and some of the promises that government has made since.

Food distribution
Following the decision to stop public transport, taxi drivers, touts and other Ugandans who live from hand to mouth were left bereft of incomes, which prompted Mr Museveni to announce that government would be providing them with maize flour, beans, sugar, powder milk, salt, among others.

Shs59.4b was set aside for the purchase and distribution of food to at least two million vulnerable people in Kampala, Wakiso and parts of Mukono. However, there were questions around the quality of food that was supplied.

Nakawa MP (FDC), Mr Michael Kabaziguruka, was one of those who complained about the quality of the food.

“Issues of quality aside, the people of Nakawa got food. At the beginning, the quality of, especially the beans, was terrible, but it improved as the exercise progressed,” Mr Kabaziguruka said.

At the same time, food was not distributed to all the two million people that had been planned for.

The State minister for Disaster Preparedness, Mr Musa Ecweru, said the targeted number was not met due to lack of funds.

“We ended up distributing food to 1.8 million people. The funds got finished before we could cover most parts of Wakiso,” Mr Ecweru said.

Shopping arcades
Mr Museveni has always insisted that shopping arcades cannot be reopened because it is impossible to observe social distancing in there. During his last address, the President directed the Minister of Kampala, Ms Betty Amongi, and that of Health Jane Ruth Aceng to work around finding ways of having the arcades reopen for business.

Subsequently, Ms Amongi and her Trade counterpart, Ms Amelia Kyambadde, last week toured some of the shopping arcades in Kampala and interfaced with some of the proprietors, but their recommendations are yet to be made public.

However, the arcade owners and traders are now inclined to think Mr Museveni has been misled by scientists into imagining that standard operating procedures cannot be practiced in the arcades.

The stand on arcades has, however, hit the traders who operate in there and the proprietors very hard. Mr Everest Kayondo, the chairperson of Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), sums up their plight.

“The traders in the arcades and their landlords are badly off. The traders are not making any sales and the landlords are also not realizing anything as much as rent,” Mr Kayondo said.

The stand on arcades set the stage for a conflict between arcade owners and some of the tenants over payment of rent for the duration of the lockdown. Mr Museveni, in hid May 4 address, said it is “not reasonable” for banks and landlords to demand for payments and advised them to either reschedule the payments or write them off.

That notwithstanding, last month, property mogul Drake Lubega sparked off a storm when he sent out a reminder to all his tenants reminding them of their rent obligations. Mr Lubega had earlier told sections of the local press that he would not forego any of the rent money as he too had obligations such as bank loans to service.

Former Jinja East MP David Babi Kamusaala, blames the rent standoff on lack of clarity on the part of the President and the government.

“When you say doing so would be unreasonable, you leave room for machinations. Mr Museveni or the Ministry of Trade should have come out with more clarity. Both the traders and the landlords have not been earning. The best option would be for government to compensate the landlords for incomes lost during the lockdown. That would ease the burden on the traders,” Dr Kamusaala, who is now a lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, says.

Face masks
In one of his speeches, Mr Museveni announced that masks had to be worn by all, adding that government was to avail free masks to all Ugandans above the age of six through the Local Councils. Later, while announcing the lifting of restrictions on public transport, he made it look like it would be subject to the distribution of face masks.

“...it is, therefore, crucial that these relaxation measures are timed to coincide with the universal provision of those masks,” he said. After consulting with officials, he said they needed two weeks to avail the masks.

The masks distribution exercise was flagged off on June 11, by First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen Moses Ali, with a reported 750,000 masks going to communities in the border districts of Rakai, Kyotera, Amuru and Adjumani.

The Ministry of Health spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, told Sunday Monitor that many more masks have since been distributed.

“By Wednesday we had distributed 3.8 million masks in other districts, including Busia, Hoima, Gulu, Arua and Buikwe,” Mr Ainebyona said.
The Ministry had promised to give out 30 million masks.

Health
Mr Museveni said in his May 18 address that the lockdown had helped government to prepare better for any spikes. In addition to the specialised treatment centres in Entebbe, Mulago and the Women’s specialised hospital, he said, 14 treatment centres had been set up in the 14 regional referral hospitals across the country.

Information from the Ministry of Health indicates that out of the $172.6m (approximately Shs640b) that had been spent as at the end of May, $32.6m (about Shs121b) was spent on procurement of beds and accessories, equipment for Intensive Care Units, civil infrastructure, energy equipment, installation of oxygen plants, meals for health workers and those in isolation, accommodation and meals for quarantined persons and transfers to regional referral hospitals.

The figure would suggest adequate preparedness, but Dr George Ekwaro, the health minister in the ‘People’s Government’, a loose coalition of people who believe Dr Kizza Besigye won the 2016 General Election, argues that the government’s Covid-19 response is “a miserable failure”.

“The world over, serious governments strengthened their health systems by recruiting more health workers, increased health sector budget to above seven per cent of GDP, built new health facilities to take care of possible surge in cases, strengthened surveillance and testing capacity, strengthened immunity of their people by providing them with food fortified with vitamins,” Dr Ekwaro said.

“Whether Mr Museveni’s government did any of the above, I leave it to the public to judge,” he added.

Shadowy promise

Mr Museveni directed the ministries of Gender and that of Education to register categories of people such as school owners and salon operators who have been affected by the lockdown in order for them to benefit from cheap loans to either help them resuscitate their businesses or start new ones.

The problem is that the government has a long history of failure to fulfil its promises.
It has previously made promises to set up a youth internship programme, youth Saccos, youth work places and a graduate fund, all of which came to naught

The resistance that has so far been put up by the arcade owners has put Mr Museveni to the test. The boda boda, religious leaders and educationists, over whom he has until now been consist in his resolve not to have them back soon, must be watching with more than keen interest.

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