Out of adversity comes innovation. The ugliest experiences offer opportunities for positive change and progress. Even Covid-19 – painful, debilitating, bringer of death – is forcing changes with potential advantages.
When the virus reached these shores in the early months of this year, the provincial and federal governments of Canada imposed necessary lockdowns and closures that, we assumed, would be temporary measures to minimise the spread of the infections. We were so unprepared for this pandemic that many professionals and organisations had to scramble to quickly implement changes in the way they did business in order to avert personal and collective economic disaster.
One of the biggest changes was the shifting of work from doctors’ clinics and other professionals’ offices to their homes. In the healthcare professions, only acutely ill patients were allowed into hospital and other health centres. Telemedicine with videoconferencing became the only option available to the majority of patients that needed outpatient care.
Excellent Internet networks enabled seamless communication among doctors, and between their home offices and hospitals, pharmacies, laboratory and imaging services, community health services and other agencies that form the integrated healthcare system. Within weeks of implementing the changes, doctors and patients began to report that the system was working without compromising people’s safety.
Eight months later, further refinement of the system has made virtual medical practice an almost “normal” way of doing things. Whereas it is too early to be certain how it will play out, I suspect that virtual healthcare is here to stay, at least as a major option for patients that do not have severely acute health care needs.
The same is true of other professions. Real estate transactions, complete with virtual tours of properties and closure of sales, are being done virtually. Finance, banking and investment professionals are keeping those nerve centres of the economy working from their homes.
A Ugandan engineer friend in Toronto told me that she will likely continue working from home for at least one year. A senior partner in a finance and development consultancy firm in Nairobi told me a few days ago that his organisation finds no reason to want him and his colleagues to work from their offices in the city.
Notwithstanding some teething problems, the online learning that Covid-19 has forced Canadian schools, colleges and universities to implement rather quickly, is forcing a rethink of the entire concept of education. What was meant to be a temporary measure may well become permanent, or at least a major component of formal education.
Closer to home, the International Community of Banyakigyezi (ICOB), whose annual convention that had been slated to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in August, was cancelled because of the pandemic, made good on its promise to hold a virtual meeting before the end of this calendar year.
Using a Zoom facility, ICOB enabled people in Canada, Ecuador, Uganda, UK and USA to meet this past weekend. The well-attended gathering enabled us to learn and share great ideas without leaving the comfort of our homes. It was beautiful to see Banyakigyezi in Kabaare and Ntungamo join those in larger cities in distant lands in ICOB’s first virtual convention.
Interestingly, the convention’s time management was way more efficient than the in-person ones that have been chronically challenged by the malady of “African time.” Second, the convention was addressed by excellent speakers who, to a person, were very well received. Getting them to attend a physical gathering in, say, Boston would have been financially impossible for ICOB.
In the event, we heard very inspiring personal stories from Banyakigyezi sitting thousands of kilometres apart. Maxima Nsiimenta, the CEO of Livara Cosmetics in Kampala, Vincient Taremwa, an educator in Quito, Ecuador, South America, Elvis Muhaabwa, a retired civil servant in Greenville, South Carolina, USA, Joelle Katangaaza Reid, a medical doctor specialising in emergency medicine in the UK and Allan Rwakatungu, the CEO and founder of Xente, a digital financial transactions business-based in Kampala, demonstrated, in real time, the international stage on which Ugandans are playing, and the transformed world in which we live.
Manuel Muranga, professor and head of the Institute of Language Studies at Kabale University whetted our appetites with an excellent overview of the languages of Kigyezi. He also honoured the late Festo Karwemera, who devoted over half a century to the study and preservation of Rukiga and the traditions of the Bakiga.
Paul Kasenene, a medical doctor specialising in Nutritional, functional and Wellness medicine, gave an exceptionally good presentation on Covid and Mental Health Wellness, complete with slides to illustrate the subject.
It was only John Patrick Tabaro, a retired judge, whose presentation on Banyakigezi Culture was sabotaged by a poor cybernetwork connection from his base in Uganda. However, even that was an opportunity for improvement that ICOB’s leaders will study and seek to prevent from recurrence. The success of this convention has demonstrated that ICOB can have greater inclusion of Banyakigyezi, who would have ordinarily been unable to attend in person conventions due to cost, time constraints or problems with getting visitors’ visas.
Second, the cost to the organisation and to the attendees was minimal, consisting of Internet access fees (data units). The regular in-person convention normally costs thousands of dollars per person, in the form of travel, accommodation, registration and other fees. Such savings give members and friends of ICOB a great opportunity to make substantial donations to the Kigezi Education Fund, ICOB’s flagship program through which the organization supports technical and vocational education back home.
The ICOB leadership has decided to hold these cyber-gatherings every three months, with a view to creating opportunities for as many Banyakigezi as possible to share in development-focused conversations and networking. The next virtual gathering will be held on Saturday January 30, 2021.
These Covid-induced changes in the way we do business invite Uganda’s leaders and policymakers to accelerate their focus and presence on digital and cyber-platforms. The world will not revert to the pre-Covid pandemic mode of operation. Recognising and acting on this is the first step in avoiding being left behind. To achieve this requires us to shift our priorities to heavy investment in digital and cybercommunication technologies, not for the benefit of the residents of Greater Kampala alone, but for all Ugandans including rural community dwellers.
In this inevitable shift to the virtual world of business, education, service delivery and social interaction, our collective agenda must be to make sure that no single Ugandan is left behind.