How to reach a Covid-19 hand while still respecting presidential directive

Sunday April 5 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

This weekend the government will start distributing food to relieve the multitudes of Uganda’s urban poor, starting in Kampala and Wakiso. If pulled off competently, this will be great help to families.

President Museveni has been furious with those he says are seeking cheap popularity, especially politicians, by distributing food in a fwaa manner that draws crowds together hence exposing them to the risk of catching the coronavirus disease — Covid-19.

Attempted murder is the charge that awaits such people. If anyone has anything meaningful to contribute, the President says, it should go through the coronavirus national task force. Fair enough.

What I am not sure about is whether the President is open to some genuinely creative but low-key efforts focused on one’s immediate community. The sort of efforts not championed by Opposition politicians, but by ordinary wananchi. The sort of efforts that won’t draw crowds and expose them to the rampaging pandemic that is Covid-19.

Best case scenario is that the government’s food distribution won’t reach everyone who needs support. Therefore, micro approaches are crucial to fill the gaps, to reach a hand.

On March 30, Mr Kenneth Barigye, a friend, launched a drive on Facebook to support the needy is his locality in Wakiso District. He wrote: “We are planning to buy rice, posho and beans and distribute to a few families. We will use Shs38,800 (about $10), to give each family 2kgs of rice, 2kgs of posho and 2kgs of beans. We are targeting boda boda riders, taxi drivers, masons and night guards who have been providing for their families but who are now unable due to the Covid-19 lockdown. I would like to ask you as my friends to support me if you can by contributing at least Shs38,800…”


Shortly after the presidential address that day, Mr Barigye posted: “With the President’s directive to stop any efforts to help people with distributing food, this drive will be paused. I thank those of you who had already sent me money. We will use the money to distribute this help after the lockdown. God bless you.”

That pause in the drive prompted a response from Ms Naomi Kabarungi less than an hour later. With her permission, I reproduce much of what she wrote to encourage Mr Barigye to keep at it.

“So here is a simple strategy my family is using that might work for you too! Feel free to copy and paste:

“1. Contact your LC1 (or other trusted community leader), inform them you would like to help small small.

“2. Ask the LC1 to [identify] someone/people who might need some help in this rough time.

“3. Within your means, pay for some #lockdown shopping (sugar, salt, soap, posho, beans etc.) vouchers at your village kaduuka (shop).

“4. LC1 will then send the identified person(s)-in-need to kaduuka to claim the voucher(s).

“5. If you already know the person in (1) go straight to kaduuka!
“That way, you eliminate the buy-stock-and-supply higi haga that may push you to create a crowd against the presidential directives to #StayAtHome; you will support your local kaduka owner to #StayInBusiness in this hard time; you’ll eliminate possible problems of cash transfers that may fall in the wrong hands, and you will support the most vulnerable in your community. And of course, you will do your small contribution in helping everybody #StaySafeUG for one more day.”

That was interesting, but I wanted clarification on the exact nature or look of the voucher. I fired off an inquiry and Ms Kabarungi responded:

“So the idea is a sort of one-reach-one, whatever little something you are willing to share. For the muntu wa wansi to also make a contribution, not necessarily in a big-Ruparelia-way. E.g. I am ready to give 30k for one person (or for a day). I go to kaduuka, pay it up and ask what its value is, what can it get me: say 2kgs sugar, 2kgs posho, 1 litre of cooking oil, whatever. I pay up at duuka, duuka fellow issues ‘paid receipt’ which becomes the voucher. Duuka fellow can now inform LC or beneficiary that there’s stuff to collect. Thing is giver and receiver might not (have to) meet [at] all, we think it’s not important. Next day or time you have something extra, you repeat and someone else gets! Yes, you can go to as many duukas as you would like. As long as you consider convenience since there’ll be limited movement on both ends.”

I like to think that Mr Museveni, if word got to him, would really look kindly to this scientific, non-murderous approach and let it proceed.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.