Uganda’s like a couple that wants to wed but won’t contribute to the budget

Friday September 24 2021

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE.

By Benjamin Rukwengye

Most Ugandans know this process. Couple decides they are getting married, they draft and pass around their budget, requesting for contributions from friends.

It is always expected that as a sign of commitment and seriousness, they will have already made a significant contribution of their own. So, if you see a budget where the couple hasn’t put some skin in the game, that’s red flags.

Since things don’t always work out as they are projected – especially if your plans rely on the generosity of others – the couple is also always expected to have a contingency plan in case their friends and relatives don’t give enough to cover the budget.

The Zimbabwean billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa, used an interesting analogy to explain the state of events surrounding access to vaccines in Africa. Hesaid: “Imagine we all live in a village and there is a drought, and we say there isn’t going to be enough bread. 

So, the richest guys grab the baker and take control of the production of the bread. Then now we all have to go to those guys to ask them for a loaf of bread.”

In many ways, our Covid-19 strategy isn’t so dissimilar to the couple who decide to get married but aren’t willing to put some of their own money or even have a fallback plan for when the benefactors don’t come through.


A lot of the talk about our Covid-19 strategy focuses on education and curfew – both of whose status is still in limbo. 

Education because we have always had a shortage of teachers, fewer schools than are required, inexplicable learner dropout numbers. As things stand, we can only guess how bad the damage is going to be, when things get back to normal – whenever that will be. 

What we know for sure is that we have lost a generation; and that the number of teenage pregnancies, teachers that have moved on and school directors who have pivoted, is unprecedented.

Curfew because Uganda is the party capital of the continent and the night economy is a safe bet to get the wagon back on the rails fast. 

There is a large component of our economy that has not earned a dime in close to two years, for whom a three-hour adjustment in operational hours would make a world of difference. But also, because the pretenses around its enforcement are anything but logical, since the same people are up and about during the day.

For what it’s worth, we now had some vague timelines and strategy towards the easing of restrictions in these two critical sectors. 

Which brings us back to Masiyiwa’s analogy on vaccine apartheid. A lot of our projections are predicated on receiving donations of loaves of bread from the same people who abducted the baker. The problem with this strategy is that they can only give if and when they don’t have need for it – and we don’t have control over that.

Do you now see the danger? The reopening of two of our most important sectors is hinged on whether we can get vaccine donations from the richer countries, who quite honestly, couldn’t be bothered if we recover or not. 

We are obviously not going to manufacture the vaccines – at least not now – because that is beyond our reach. But we must figure out a way to continue learning and get our night economy back running, even as we wait for donations. 

You have got to sympathize with the Ministry of Education which isresponsible for about a quarter of the population. They have made valid arguments cautioning against the reopening of schools without vaccinating those who must. 

In different forums, it has been suggested that perhaps there needs to be mandatory vaccination of teachers and school staff – which moves us away from the current strategy of appealing to them to show up. With proper coordination, it shouldn’t be hard to vaccinate 400,000 people whose data we already have.

It has also been suggested that in the meantime, ideas around community education modeling might help continue learning as we figure things out. This essentially means that children don’t have to necessarily be back in school, but they can learn from their communities – about everything – from history and culture, to reading, writing and speaking, and the arts. As for the night economy, imagine what three more hours could get us!

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye