Ugandans ask Museveni to ignore Covid experts, reopen economy

Schools are expected to be granted resumption in January 2022. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The President is expected to make the final decision as he addresses the nation on Friday

A section of Ugandans who have endured two years of Covid-19 induced distress, have pleaded with President Museveni to snub the National Covid-19 Taskforce proposal of delaying the full reopening of other sectors due to surging cases of the pandemic.

Traders in Kampala told this newspaper yesterday that government must bring to an end the prolonged lockdown on all sectors and Covid-19 restrictions such as curfew, which have greatly affected their operations, income and the economy. They said they are ready to live with Covid-19.

The Covid-19 team, in a meeting with the President in Kiruhura District on Monday, reportedly asked Mr Museveni to first allow schools to reopen but hold the lockdown grip on bars, entertainment and curfew time as the government monitors changing Covid-19 situation. 

But the President is expected to make the final decision as he addresses the nation on Friday.

Situation in markets
Mr Haruna Ntabazi, a businessman and general secretary of Nakasero Market in Kampala, in reaction to the taskforce recommendation, told this publication that the President should open up the economy fully on Friday.

He said sales have greatly declined because of Covid-induced poverty and limited working hours resulting from curfew restrictions.

“We didn’t know the virus at first but right now, we know how the virus moves. The only restriction that government can maintain is that of the border points. There is no more need for curfew,” he said.

“When people are poor, the goods will rot in the stores and the farmers in the village will also be affected. The economy has dropped and we can’t wait anymore for further deterioration,” he added.

Speaking in October to encourage vaccinations, Mr Museveni vowed to remove all remaining restrictions next month. 

“Even if you don’t come out for vaccination, we will open the schools and the economy,” he said, adding: “If anything goes wrong, the moral responsibility is yours.”

Traders at the market told our reporter that schools are some of their major clients. 

The government first closed schools during a lockdown in March 2020, days before Uganda registered its index Covid-19 case, and again during a second lockdown on June 18 this year, imposed to break a devastating pandemic second wave.

Tertiary institutions and universities have been allowed to reopen gradually late this year, but pre-primary pupils have never stepped foot in class since the first closure in 2020 March.

The appeal by food commodity sellers at Nakasero for full reopening and removing curfew time is not any different from that of Mr Solomon Nsiimire, the chairperson of Uganda Bus Operators Association.
Mr Nsiimire said the removal of all Covid-19 restrictions on their operations such as carrying half capacity of passengers should be central as the President addresses the nation on Friday.

“At one point, the transport industry had to suspend operations when the spread of the virus was at its peak. Buses were parked and the owners were rendered jobless for quite some time,” he said.

“Even when the suspension of operations was lifted, we are still required to carry half capacity. We were supposed to double the fares but we didn’t because people do not have money. The losses are big,” he added.

He said although he cannot quantify the money the industry has lost due to the effects of the pandemic, bus owners have lost billions of shillings since the onset of the deadly virus in March 2020.

Mr Nsiimire says about 40 percent of buses have not been transporting passengers since the onset of the pandemic. 

“Some operators have [been forced to] park their buses for two years now because we are registering few travellers. You find that a company with eight buses is only utilising three yet they have loans to pay. We cannot break even,” he said. There are about 110 bus companies in Uganda.

Sources in the government say the night economy will not be reopened immediately because of surging Covid-19 cases.

Casablanca Bar on Acacia Avenue in Kampala remains closed since the first lockdown in March last year. The bar was one of the most popular night hangout places in the city. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

Bar owners and artistes in November asked the government to allow them to start operating in December when Covid-19 infections were down but the government disregarded their proposal citing the risk of increased infections.

Mr Rugiirwa Katatumba, the chairperson of Bar, Club and Entertainment Owners Association, told this newspaper yesterday that they are “disappointed” about the recommendation from scientists to delay their reopening.

He told this publication earlier that they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
President Museveni kept the industry under lockdown since 2020, citing the higher risk of spreading the coronavirus among their clients. The virus has so far killed 3,285 people and infected more than 130,000 since the outbreak in the country last year.

Mr Jjemba Kanakulya Mulondo, the deputy spokesperson of Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita), said the economy should be reopened fully as the public continues to go for vaccination.

He said the impact of Covid-19 has not only led to the closure of some businesses but also increased the cost of doing business.

“About 25 percent of businesses in Kampala remain closed due to the impact of Covid-19.  Some traders have relocated their businesses to other districts where rent is relatively cheaper compared to what they were being charged in Kampala. Others have changed businesses. They have resorted to farming,” he said.

Mr Kanakulya said several shops in a number of Kampala City arcades remain empty. 
He said on average, business space in arcades goes for between Shs2.5m and Shs4m per month.

The transportation costs for cargo have tripled during the pandemic, Mr Kanakulya said. He added that the cost of transporting a container from China to Mombasa has shot up from $3,000 (Shs10.6m) to $9,000 (Shs31.8m), while transporting cargo from Mombasa port to Kampala has also increased from $2,800 (about Shs10m) to $3,400 (Shs12m).

Very hard times
Ms Santa Akidi, a 50-year-old mango and yellow bananas hawker, is looking up to the reopening.

Ms Akidi, a resident of Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb, believes when the economy is reopened, she will be able to make more money and fend for her six children, three grandchildren and his ailing husband, who has been bedridden for two years following a boda-boda accident.

She said before the lockdown, she used to make Shs30,000 per day. Today, she struggles to raise Shs5,000.
Mr Emma Awojan, a boda boda cyclist and a father of nine, said he lost his previous job due to Covid. He used to work as a transport officer in one of the courier companies in Kampala.

He could work during day time and ride the motorcycle at night. He, however, said the curfew has complicated their work.

“I used to makes Shs900,000 per month yet I was riding the motorcycle only at night. Today, I work from morning up to 5pm but I only make Shs400,000 a month,” Mr Awojan said. 

Mr Awojan said he wants schools reopened as planned so as to keep children busy so that they can stop loitering around.

Education sector
According to education experts, the education sector should not be closed again because of Covid-19 to retain teachers and guarantee continuity of learning, which is a pillar in national development.

Ms Mary (not real), who used to teach lower primary in one of the private schools in Wakiso District, now runs a retail shop in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb.

She is not sure whether she will immediately resume work when schools reopen next month. 

The school where she used to teach was early this year evicted from the rented premises due to accumulated arrears.

Ms Catherine (not real name), a co-director of a kindergarten in Iganga District, said she is praying for the reopening of schools to happen.

She said during the first lockdown, she was rendered jobless yet she had to take care of herself and her children. 
After the schools were closed due to Covid-19, she had to think hard to survive. She immediately mobilised some children for coaching at a fee. She started with two children. The number has since increased to 10 children. She charges each learner Shs1,000 per day. She is able to make Shs50,000 a week.

“I know government was against coaching during the lockdown but we had to look for ways of surviving. I teach my children from a spacious room so social distancing is observed. I also have a handwashing facility,” she said.
Ms Catherine said reopening the schools will be a relief as she will once again lead a normal life.