Lockdown: How Ugandans are coping

Monday April 06 2020

A woman sweeps a deserted street on Palisa Road in Mbale Municipality yesterday. Photo Michael Woniala

The family of Mr Sadiq Ssekiranda, 50, a commuter taxi driver, had been having regular meals until a few days after the President banned public transport for two weeks.

Mr Ssekiranda, who had been plying the Masaka-Kampala route, now survives on one meal a day since the lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We serve porridge for the children’s breakfast and we wait for lunch (posho and beans) at about 4pm, which is also supper,” the father of six and resident of Kyabakuza Village, Masaka Municipality, says.

The family hopes that the 50kgs of maize flour and 20kg of beans it bought will last them throughout the period.
The lockdown is one of the measures the President issued to prevent the spread Covid-19 in the country. Government has confirmed 48 cases.

Mr Museveni also imposed a curfew from 7pm to 6:30am for the same period.

Mr Ssekiranda is among the millions of Ugandans that could benefit from government’s food distribution.
The exercise, which kicked off in Kampala and Wakiso districts, is mainly targeting the vulnerable.


Each family will be given 3kgs of beans, 6kgs of posho and a 500g sachet of salt. However, its sustainability will depend on the size of the family.
Ms Shamira Nantongo, a primary school teacher in Masaka Town, says she has changed her menu to survive.
“I instead prepare porridge for lunch which has affected me because I am a breast-feeding mother.

Government announced that they would distribute 2kg of powdered milk and 2kg sugar to pregnant and breast-feeding mothers.
Ms Margaret Bayigga Kiwanuka, a social worker in Masaka Town, says she has learnt to be frugal.

“I don’t know when this lockdown will end. I fear that I may wake up one day and I don’t have soap. I have reduced the number of times I wash in a week, and my children wear the same clothes for several days so that we save the little soap we have,” she says.
Mr Abubaker Kalanda, another teacher in Masaka, says while his boss gave him some home needs, he is not sure of his survival this month since they are finished.
“Even my savings are spent,” he says.
In Mbale District, many residents are facing starvation. Ms Agnes Nandutu, a resident of Mission Cell in Mbale Town, who has been selling second-hand clothes, can no longer sustain her family of four.

“We can’t fend for our families yet we live from hand to mouth. Last month was difficult and we are not certain of this month’s survival,” she says.

Mr James Musoke, a barber in Mbale Town, says despite the circumstances, his landlord wants his March rent.
“I have part of his (landlord) money for month of March, but due the current situation, I cannot give it to him or I will remain with nothing,” he says.

The once vibrant town is now quiet.

“We don’t [hang out] any more. We do not even move around. We are living in fear and only clinging on hope,” Mr Paul Muniola, a resident of Kiteso Cell, says.

However, Mr Barasa Ogajo, the Resident District Commissioner, urges residents to remain calm, saying government is taking measures to keep Ugandans safe.

In Sironko District, Mr Steven Wasukira, a resident, says they are finding it difficult to fend for their families.

“Government needs to provide relief to poor households before it is too late. Short of that, the media will start reporting about people dying of hunger,” he says.

In Tororo District, Mr Augustine Opio, a resident of Tororo Town, wonders how long the lockdown will last.

“We are not working and there is no hope that government will support us with food. We might starve to death,” Mr Opio says.
Mr Edward Khaukha, the regional programmes manager of World Vision, an NGO, acknowledges that people, especially urban dwellers working in informal sectors are facing hard times.

“Whatever they earn is what they spend. So, if they are not working, it means they have nothing to spend,” Mr Khaukha says.
He says they have donated 200 kg of rice to needy households in the district. He advises government to sensitise people in rural areas about food security.

In Gulu and Kitgum districts, drinking joint operators lock their customers in their houses to avoid arrest.
Salon attendants in both towns have switched to vending salt and soap while boda boda cyclists deal in charcoal while others hire out their motorcycles.

In Agago and Pader districts, residents have resorted to felling trees. Mr Oringa Largo, the chairperson Pader, says they have suspended charcoal business to protect forests from being depleted.

“Several trucks from Busia and Kampala come here for charcoal which is risky at this time. We are suspending it for two weeks,’’ he says.

According to the Centre for Budget and Tax Policy (CBTP), a think tank, seven million Ugandans are in need of government assistance.

The body says the most affected groups include informal sector workers such as boda boda riders, taxi drivers and vendors.
The think tank estimates that private sector workers, mainly those earning less than Shs1m a month, have also been gravely affected.

CBTP recommends that government finds Shs800b to bail out members of the informal sector, with each person receiving up to Shs50,000 a month.

Another Shs240 billion is also recommended to support more than 800,000 private sector employees, with at least Shs100,000 per month for a three-month period when they are redundant.

What they say

Mr Ali Masege, salon owner in Namutumba Town: “I was saving some money on a daily basis. I’m out of salon business, growing rice and I expect a good harvest since the rains have started.”

Mr David Nabongho, owner of Guest House in Namutumba Town Council, who does not have tenants: “The only option now is to use the rooms for poultry keeping and see if I can earn some money.”

Mr Julius Mbulamuko, boda- boda rider in Namutumba Town Council: “I would have sold my motorcycle to feed my family of seven, but my chapati business is sustaining it and enabling me to pay rent.”

Ms Grace Aanyu, a mother of 16 in Soroti District: “We are torn between entering our houses early or staying awake to watch over possible acts of theft.”

Mr Emmanuel Businde, DJ in Lugazi Municipality, Buikwe District: “I was used to spending all the money I earn, but when we get out of this (lockdown), I have to start saving.”

Mr Alex Lubowa, resident of Buwama Town, Mpigi: “I closed my hardware store. Now I spend most of the time planting sweet potatoes. I’m suffering a lot because I don’t have money yet my people want food.”

Mr Steven Calvin Kanakulya, resident of Wobulenzi Town: “Unlike other families who own gardens, we have to buy the maize flour and beans, but I have almost exhausted the money I have. We are now getting some food on credit with hope that things will normalise. I tried to call my boss in Kampala to send me some money as my March salary, but he is yet to respond.”

Ms Teddy Margaret Nabagala, a resident of Katikamu Sub-county: “I had a canteen at a secondary school and a shop in Wobulenzi Town. These businesses are currently not operational, but we are lucky to have some gardens. My children are learning gardening because it is now the only way we can survive.”

Ms Alice Busingye, resident of Mbarara Municipality: “Before, we would prepare for his (her husband) coming and try to put everything in order. But he is now around all time and you must ensure everything is orderly all the time least you have endless quarrels, it is inconveniencing.”

Reported by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Fred Wambede, Malik Fahad Jjingo, Joseph Omollo, Denis Edema, Philip Wafula, Ronald Seebe, Simon Peter Emwamu, Vincent Emon, Derick Kissa, Sadat Mbogo Cissy Makumbi, Charity Akullo, Bill Oketch, Patrick Ebong, Perez Rumanzi, Dan Wandera & Rajab Mukombozi