The Prime minister of Uganda, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, informed parliament yesterday that the government can only afford to distribute food to poor families in the districts of Kampala and Wakiso. Parliamentarians rejected the proposal and the program was suspended, on grounds that the whole country must benefit from the program, and focusing on two districts only is not fair.
Kampala is the capital city of Uganda, and Wakiso is largely populated by people who run businesses (both big and small) in the city. The growth at which the city has extended into Wakiso district has been high in recent years.
The government is estimating that more than 1 million people in this central part of Uganda live on daily income and surely need help. The targeted families depend on small scale businesses that include roadside vending, bodaboda, taxi operators, small restaurants, and many others. The proposed quantity of food includes 6kg of maize (corn) flour, beans, salt, and 2kg of powdered milk per family. A family of 6 people consumes these in 3 to 6 days.
With the confirmed number of cases of coronavirus in Uganda standing at 45, political decisions are directly affecting the response of the government to fight against the pandemic. The implications may not be seen now, but it is just a matter of time. With the exception of a few, the rest of the infected people are those who were returning from abroad, and the first case was a passenger from Dubai aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight. Some were successfully quarantined at the airport at their own expense of (allegedly) USD100 per night in private hotels that were selected by the government. Others successfully bribed screening and security agents to avoid quarantine. It was also widely reported that several government officials would pick their relatives by force out of quarantine. The allegations of corruption at the airport were not followed up by the government and there’s no known conviction regarding that matter. But when the first case was confirmed, the ministry of health embarked on a difficult task of recollecting all those who had not been quarantined. Some refused to report back to the authorities in time, but eventually were all traced, according to reports.
Now, a supplementary budget is asking for 1 billion shillings to invest in social media to raise awareness, and 3 billion shillings to create billboards. When people are locked up in their homes, how will they see the billboards? After places of worship, public gatherings and schools have closed, who doesn’t know what’s going on? One member of parliament proposed that the government pays all parliamentarians to respond to the disaster. But the same government doesn’t have money to feed people! It’s the legislators’ decisions that will determine how successfully the country will defeat coronavirus and its effects.
Right now, what people want to hear is good news. With the number of people confirmed to be infected worldwide with coronavirus standing at more than 1,034,000, tabling bills in parliament that lack consideration for a common man only increases fear and uncertainty. The business community and economic analysts are most likely to be worried about Uganda’s recovery plan in the coming months. Uganda is one of the countries with large international debts and so spending money recklessly during this period points to an economic crisis. There’s little agricultural input right now due to the complete shutdown of transport so most people are predicting hunger to be the main problem in the future. People everywhere in the country are not having enough food much as certain parts are more affected than others. Distribution of food to everyone in need is not feasible and cannot sustain the country for long. But good policies and governance that focus on people’s needs can. We continue to pray that God gives wisdom to our leaders.