Right from the very start of this crisis, we committed ourselves as a party to supporting the government efforts to deal with it and only provide constructive criticism that can lead to improvement of those measures.
To that end, we would like to commend the measures put in place by the Government to curb the spread of Coronavirus. These include the swift shutting down of schools and tertiary institutions, strict border-crossing measures and the identification, isolation and testing of people exhibiting symptoms.
We salute the medical, social and security services that are on the frontlines of this battle. Your selfless service to the nation is seen, it is appreciated and it will be remembered. We would also like to commend the UPDF leadership’s acknowledgement of some soldiers’ undisciplined, unnecessary, unjustifiable violence against civilians in the name of implementing the president’s orders.
And while this is a step in the right direction, Ugandans expect that there will be no repeat of the same.
Thus far, the Government has been very clear on what it expects from Ugandans.
The president has over the past two weeks issued various directives calling upon Ugandans to stay at home, limit their movement to essential business only, avoid physical contact and carry out frequent washing of hands.
For the most part, Ugandans have heeded this call and must be commended for their sacrifices.
What is not yet clear, is what Ugandans can expect from the Government. Many of them have lost their source of income, have no food reserves or savings to see them through the next 14 days and yet are the most vulnerable.
While the president has said the government will look into this, no concrete steps have been communicated. There is nothing more basic than the need for food. It is unrealistic to ask people to self-isolate when they have nothing to eat at home. How much money is needed to provide for those in need? How much has the government mobilized? What is the shortfall and how does it propose that it is met? Equally important, how will the distribution of this food, once acquired, be done to ensure that it reaches those it is intended for? These are questions Ugandans at home need answers to.
Without this information, it is counterproductive for government to ban voluntary efforts (by politicians, faith-based institutions etc) to meet people’s need. What the president is interpreting as cheap politics is for many Ugandans, the provision of daily bread.
We therefore make the following recommendations to the government:
1. To provide clarity on what plans are being put in place to mitigate the humanitarian needs arising from people’s adherence to the lockdown measures. Specifically, we ask that the amount of food required is quantified and communicated to the public as well as the distribution methods that are going to be used. This will not only provide Ugandans the assurance that Government is doing something, but will also enable those that are able to contribute to this effort a clear picture of what and how to do so.
2. To provide practical guidance on how to keep markets and other essential services open. The idea of keeping 4 metres distance seems impractical in cases like roadside markets where a distance of 8 metres (2 people) would put shoppers onto the road. Is it possible for instance to provide traders with surgical masks and gloves?
Can the Government publicize, incentivise or partner with companies offering home-delivery services? This would enable them to increase their capacity by hiring bodabodas which would in turn ease the need for going to the market. We cannot assume that the most vulnerable among us will have the capacity to walk to the markets, let alone hire home delivery services on their own.
3. To let Ugandans know what, if anything, is being done to prepare for a full-blown pandemic if it does happen. The earlier we become aware of our options, the more mentally prepared we will be as a nation.
We noted that the President talked of generous donations from Tony Elumelu and we have read press reports of others including Alibaba’s Jack Ma. Instead of using the money from the latter to buy cars, we propose that the Government uses it to either buy food for the people or equipment to deal with coronavirus patients. Given the extent of the lockdown, the taskforce surely can be given access to a host of government vehicles that are parked as a result of the lockdown.
We will be making more recommendations over the course of the next few days and as we have done previously, appeal to the Government to seriously consider these proposals in good faith and in the spirit of national unity against this vicious, invisible enemy that must be defeated.
Coronavirus is a risk to us all as Ugandans, and we will fight it united as Ugandans.
We continue to urge Ugandans to adhere to the health measures prescribed by the Ministry of Health. Stay at home, wash your hands regularly, and avoid shaking of hands, hugs and other such bodily contact. We are praying for the nation, as I am certain, are many other people.
We shall overcome.
The author is the National Coordinator of Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) political party.