How lockdown starts to dissolve on its own

Thursday May 28 2020


By Karoli Ssemogerere

Yesterday, privately owned vehicles began moving. On Entebbe Road, the movement was effortless. There was some traffic but not the customary traffic. One group of cars was missing, public service vehicles.
KCCA is doing some work and repairs, but hasn’t openly engaged the public on its plans. PSVs are a large urban constituency. They are a major revenue source, but all these years since they first became popular in 1980, there is no infrastructure to support their activities - bus stops for passengers to board and alight.
But these PSVs have outlived their other competitors, including buses, which can’t profitably operate on Uganda’s roads. The potholes have been a reliable source of mayhem wrecking shock absorbers, etc.

Companies like Pioneer Buses, which arrived with a lot of fanfare, are down to just a few buses. The bigger number are a cheap source of spare parts for the handful on the road. The story of how so many new buses could be allowed to run without a proper workshop is part of the mystery of this particular company.
Some of the heroes of the lockdown include mechanics who serviced Kampala’s autos during the lockdown at great personal cost. Mechanics cycled from different corners of the metro region to fix rickety cars, it may have been a good time to do this. Drawing spare parts from Kisekka Market required police to “dose” before they could illegally get into the market.

Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde spoke for many when she asked how these mechanics could work without access to their garages. It’s a pity she didn’t capture that most of these mechanics were spending three or four hours to go to work. But this brought attention to this important work.
Many mechanics were ready to be forgiven their sins of overcharging for spare parts and services. This industry is changing as it moves from uneducated to university graduates. Many people are now shopping for spare parts online from overseas looking for long life and reliability. URA and courier companies are making good money facilitating this trade. When you call the local mechanic, you already have Shs2 million worth of spare parts.

There are a few roads that could benefit from urgent works, especially those which have drainage problems, that have the ability to dig trenches from a small water spot. Years ago, term contracts would improve the life of these roads as the contractor received a bonus if their section of the road had less maintenance gaps.
Back to the mechanics, some bad news, new infections from the local community are dominated by mechanics. Just yesterday, two cases of mechanics infected with the virus were reported. They interact with many people and there is little or no time to clean up their gear.

We are hoping that government offices open soon. It’s good for government coffers. Even the Minister of Finance, who waved off big questions like the partial liquidation of NSSF, will appreciate deposits from taxpayers. Some prices have been voluntarily dropping, commodities like sugar, food like fish dropped from Shs15,000 to 11,500. Prices of imported items like pasta dropped as did mainstays for most families like Jesa Milk, which has dropped to Shs2,100 from Shs2,700. Jesa has built a secure brand shoppers first finish it up before looking at other brands.

Coronavirus exposed a few but critical things in Uganda. There are a lot of infrastructure that are not working, but no shortage of medical personnel. Medical workers received pay raises, which had not been forthcoming for a long time and the money is halfway decent. This is a good thing. One of the smart things was to allow cargo to move. The President at one of his chats stated coffee has to move, a complicated relationship with an ignored sector.


Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law
and an Advocate.