Coronavirus: Scary bit for low income earners and the media

Tuesday March 24 2020


By Nicholas Sengoba

The devastating coronavirus that causes the deadly Covid-19 disease has scared even the bravest of the brave.

Everywhere people are sanitising and trying their level best to take heed of the warnings and precautionary measures put in place by President Yoweri Museveni and other Health authorities.

Because one of the easiest ways in which it moves from person to person, bodily contact and social distancing is now the in-thing to limit human interaction as much as possible. So, nearly all activities are slowing down due to the fear of the spread of the virus.

The downside is that when there is no movement, there is hardly any work taking place because ours is really not an online business country. It is not a soft copy place. We deal with the hard copy.

We want a hand written or printed copy delivered to us by the bank teller just in case someone comes demanding one day. If we close that out because we want to minimise the use of paper money and contact, there will be some foot dragging. Yet we have to learn to do things that way.

These are desperate times which call for desperate measures. For others, it is not even that sophisticated. They are their work place. They move and stop with it. If they are not around, there is no work and vice versa. That is what is so worrying.


There are many people who live from hand-to-mouth and work from when they start the life of looking after themselves to the day they finally go to the grave.

An illness is a major setback in case it arises. It may mean that the little merchandise they have stored away in one small corner of a filthy market either rots or is stolen and life moves on.

Or in case they are hawkers and are arrested by KCCA or other authorities for breaking the rules that govern the order of the city, it is game down. They return to start from scratch when their woes end, albeit temporarily because disruption hangs over their heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles.

So for them presence is everything. If they don’t work, they won’t eat. Yet they have to eat. They will not allow for a vacuum. They will have to break the law as their easiest option.

Already even without the isolation and hardships created by the regulations that minimise movement and economic activity, there have been various several reports of cases of escalation in cases of muggings, handbag, phone and necklace snatchings.

Boda boda thefts and car jerkings have become a norm. So have the con men on the mobile telephone networks increased and perfected the act of ripping off desperate and gullible people.

So even if we do not get any other victim of the coronavirus, insecurity caused by the lack of incomes for mainly low earners, the unemployed and those in disguised unemployment is a real threat caused by the virus.

The foreseeable option of getting out of this complication is a cure, a vaccine, etc, so that we live with the disease like we live with malaria, HIV and other troublesome ailments. Yet it is not that easy at all. On hope, we live.

What will media houses do if we enter into a faze of absolutely zero contact? Already there is a huge challenge. Many who were used to events and gatherings being their main source of news are now gnashing their teeth.

There is no sport taking place at the moment. The ‘press conference journalist’ is at their wits end and so are those who specialise in attending opening and closing ceremonies of mainly NGO-sponsored seminars and events. The little transport facilitation allowance is also no more in the meanwhile.

You have no music and other social events that feature our celebrities taking place. So our gossip and light reading Coffee Break pages are stuck.

There is an opportunity here though. The journalists who will gain from this period are the resourceful ones who can create interesting and educative content that holds the attention of readers.

They will have to blend history which is ‘fresh news’ to our relatively young population and couple it with insightful analysis that sets itself high above and beyond the ordinary gossip with ubiquitous with social media.

Then comes the newsroom where social distancing is a great challenge right from editorial to the printing press. What if (and God forbid) say a journalist is found carrying the virus? Do we quarantine the whole media house?

What if vendors are stopped from selling papers because they go through many hands like paper money ie from the printers, packers, drivers, riders to the distributor, agents etc?

If we take a long break, what happens to the vital contracts and revenue from advertisers? If matters are taken online where content is sold free of charge, will journalists then have to take a pay cut? It is very intriguing.

This virus is beyond a ‘pure’ health challenge. It has put us in a catch 22 situation. To stop it we must stop most aspects of our livelihoods.

Time will tell if we are really prepared for that.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.