What’s one to do with our evolving total lockdown?

Sunday March 29 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

In his night address on March 25, President Museveni was not clear on what he wants those who go into and out of supermarkets to do to lessen chances of catching the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease.

He left the issue hanging and pivoted to suggesting deliveries to homes and offices by boda bodas and the like. But the boda riders would still have to enter the supermarkets — what he called high-end markets as opposed to the market-markets like the Owinos and the Nakaseros in Kampala.

If he had said he was limiting the number of shoppers in each supermarket at any given moment, it would have made sense even if tricky to enforce. The doable thing, I suppose, is to order that anyone entering a supermarket must be wearing a mask, on top of washing hands and/or applying hand sanitiser.

And if masks and such other essential personal protective gear must be affordable, it is the business of the government to ensure that is the case given the circumstances. It was good to hear earlier that the President threatened to revoke the trading licences of those hiking prices, although, as has been pointed out, there aren’t many tomato sellers with trading licences. Maybe he was talking about the few makers and importers of things like hand sanitiser.

Besides, the delivery business will expose better how dysfunctional a place like Kampala is. Where are the plot numbers to mark out homes? How can the various nooks and crannies be reached? Where are the streetlights?

Kampala’s kavuyo has claimed lives for decades but life goes on. We have degraded wetlands and floods and cholera have come and killed us. We have built in road reserves and we have failed to enforce or respect zoning regulations. Because of that fire trucks can’t find us and so we have lost homes and merchandise to blazes.
So, here we are with the coronavirus and the President is talking as if Kampala is just another functioning city.


Another thing, though. With public transport banned, buses and taxis all the way to the bodas, how will the vast majority of health workers without ‘my car’ get to work? Once issued, the many presidential directives should quickly be followed by detailed information in terms of the whys and hows. Surely!

Mr Museveni said only essential government staff should go to the office to work. This means the rest should work from home. Several private sector entities already have their people working remotely.

Apparently, there are issues with that sort of arrangement. Many jokes have gone to the heart of the matter. For example, husbands are now spending so much time at home because bars are closed and sporting events suspended or cancelled globally.

So comes the punchline: having had a good drink at home, a husband asks his wife her phone number thinking he was chatting up the lady behind the counter at his newest watering hole.

Seriously, though, some people have realised they have no real knowledge of what their spouses do for a living. Someone may be a burglar or worse. Or a fashion designer.

The New York Times carried a story on Tuesday with this title: “Couples have a working-from-home revelation: That’s what you do all day?”

It refers to one couple: “They’ve been working from home together now for about two weeks, and it’s been going well … ‘I don’t think we understand each other’s jobs more but I know now he’s in and out of meetings all day while I tend to be more focused on individual projects.”

The author of the story also references herself: “My partner and I have been working exclusively from home for about three weeks, and I now have more keywords to add to his job description and a better understanding of the tactile tasks and problems he faces, but my knowledge doesn’t extend much beyond that…

“When I asked him to describe what I do for a living, he looked up from the seed catalogue that just arrived (plants are a passion in our household) and said, ‘You write articles.’”
What exactly does your spouse do? You got plenty of time to find out. There is some upside to this virus, after all.

Then there is this corporate lawyer friend in Kenya. Her quibble is that she is eating a lot. She is, however, working out by jogging around the housing estate where she lives. Except that by evening, her preferred jogging time, she has swallowed a number of whiskey shots. So, no exercising. At least her taste in whiskey is respectable.

Let each of us enjoy Uganda’s creeping total lockdown the best way we know how. We will tell our children and grandchildren plenty of stories. For those who will live.

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