The text came in at 10:00 pm in the night.
Hey, have you seen the news today?
Man, it’s crazy.
It was my brother Niwarinda. This was on Sunday 17th May, 2020 nearly two months after the government of Uganda had imposed a nationwide partial lock down. That evening, the National Response Covid-19 Fund task force made an appeal to the 1.5 million formally employed workers through our CEOs to donate 10,000 shillings (approx.3USD) to compliment government’s efforts in the fight against the corona virus. The committee hoped to raise approximately 30 billion in total.
In the aftermath of this appeal, the hashtags Mujooga basajja mwe (You folks are disrespectful) and Keeping my 10k trended on social media with many commentators expressing their disgust with the task force. While some felt that it was a conspicuous lack of empathy on the part of our leadership to make such an appeal albeit voluntary on an already financially strained populace. Others felt that the government needed to account first for the money it had received previously as contributions. Moreover in the previous weeks, we had had to deal with the 20 million per MP parliamentary scandal. Ours is a country of many surprises!
As I was stealthy fighting to keep my 10k on twitter, a father in far South West almost butchered his entire family because his teenage son had stolen a 10k note from his wallet. Because of that incident and others like it, I found myself thinking about the many ways in which the pandemic has affected the country especially the low income earners. Up to 80 % of the labour force works in the informal economy and most of this is essentially “underemployment” since most of the workers do not earn enough to escape poverty(UBOS 2014).It is them that the president calls “hand to mouth category workers” that have been hit hardest by the stringent lock down measures. 10k is not a lot of money but it is especially when you’re poor, temporarily unemployed with a deadly virus at your doorstep. For me, the pandemic has meant two months with no employment. And a 10k which usually is what I tip the waitress at my favorite restaurant whenever I eat out (which is not very often obviously) has never been so valuable. A 10K less in this pandemic would mean choosing between paying water bills or electricity bills. Choosing for my now large family, between taking milk without sugar or porridge with sugar for breakfast. And I am aware that for some other families, a 10k note means a whole lot more.
Our country has done well in containing the virus but sometimes it looks like that’s all we have done. We have the sky rocketing gender based violence cases because for instance on 31st March 2020, media reports indicated that 5 women had died due to domestic violence since government imposed “stay at home” measures in Mid-March. It took only two weeks to lose 5 lives! So My God, for some women, it is a choice between the virus on the streets and the monster in the home. Even as I write this, a 2 year old has been raped by a 22 year old man in Lyantonde District…in her own home. Parents are stuck with their children in homes with nothing to feed them. Hundreds of pregnant women and sick people cannot access health care services because until recently, transport both public and private had been suspended. Citizens are stuck in other countries with no means of coming home. And for some men, the pandemic is sending them into a mental health crisis as they struggle under masculinity stereotypes like their traditional role as providers of families that they cannot provide for anymore.
Yes. It is crazy.
But in all this craziness, I hope that we have learnt some lessons. I hope that we have learnt that public trust remains a government’s most valuable asset that the poor must not be invisible, that the war on gender inequality is not nearly as won as we would like to think, that inequality in whichever form makes us all less resilient. And finally, I hope we have learnt that we in the future must save that 10 k note for a rainy day.
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