A year-and-a-half after schools were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, most students remain without access to education. Some noises were made to buy or build and supply radios to homesteads so that the kids could study remotely.
This turned out to be a propaganda broadcast and a money-making venture. Solar-powered television sets were also mentioned, but these too did not go far. This was all a joke, of course.
Your columnist spent many, many hours staring, gobsmacked, at the blackboard while a succession of teachers tried to explain quadratic equations and derivatives, without any of it registering. It was never going to work over the radio, or with a medium that did not allow interaction or asking questions.
But that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel. After a wave of infections peaked last year, we sent millions of students back to school then hastily withdrew them when case numbers began to rise again. This had the net effect of turning the students into human biological weapons who spread the virus to every corner of the country.
Authorities now say that schools will not reopen until a critical mass of teachers, students and the general population has been vaccinated. Donated vaccines have allowed more people to be jabbed and when the vaccines we have paid for with our own money finally arrive later in the year, there will be even more access.
While vaccine reluctancy has dropped, vaccine hesitancy remains stubbornly high, fuelled by conspiracy theories on social media, apathy, and a general lack of trust in officialdom. So what if many people refuse to be vaccinated?
At current rates, it will take us the better part of three years to vaccinate the 21 million people needed to meet official targets to reopen. The anticipated surge in supplies later this month and next will not necessarily increase demand among the refuseniks or smooth through the logistical challenges of moving the jabs from airplane cargo holds to rural upper arms.
A surge in teenage pregnancies suggests many students are not waiting for Moderna to lift them out of traditiona. Teachers have turned to bricklaying and schools have been turned into all manner of businesses. When schools finally reopen there will be fewer students and even fewer teachers.
In truth, the horses long bolted out of the stables. There is a countrywide curfew dusk-to-dawn curfew across the country but Kampala’s streets are still clogged with cars long into the night. Social distancing rules have been ignored and face masks have dropped below the mouth.
Bars remain closed officially but not restaurants, so it isn’t uncommon to find folks ordering a crate of beer with a side of French fries.
The curfew and bar closure orders allow the police to extract surplus from motorists and revellers in more upmarket establishments but many village joints are full of spit-dispensing patrons until late into the night. Boda bodas, officially meant to stop operations at 5 or is it 6p.m, zig and zag around the clock.
The cost of enforcing the rules is unsustainably high, and, as it grows increasingly clear, so is that of respecting them. Certain business owners have not had an income in eighteen months! Yet others nine millions daily, in the inflated mask or testing deals.
A fully vaccinated person flying to Nairobi must take a test to-and-fro and, if they get their way, on arrival, yet an unvaccinated person can walk across the border from Busia or any of the many footpaths, and spread the latest variant.
Lockdowns are stop-gap measures to break infections and buy time to vaccinate. They are either enforced fully with contact tracing, stiff penalties for violators and readily-available vaccines – or they are not. It is now clear that we cannot enforce them, are not able to deploy vaccines quickly enough, and should instead allow survival of the fittest.
Herd immunity, if not yet acquired, will come at a cost of a few thousand or tens of thousands of lives – but we are fast approaching a point, if we haven’t already, where the medicine will become worse than the disease.
What began as a health problem is quickly morphing into a social and economic and possibly even a political crisis. Society cannot be locked down indefinitely. It is time to set people free from this bondage.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.
[email protected]; @Kalinaki