A woman asked her co-wife what day of the week it was. The other one said it was Saturday. The two then spent some little time arguing because the one who asked maintained that it felt like it was Sunday. But it was Saturday because there was no way I would be gardening on a Sunday near the home of these two snoopy women. I spent some time afterward thinking about how people have lost direction in the wake of coronavirus.
It is hard for most people to navigate their way through the vastness of life. That has been true and it still true. Life is a journey; a long, crooked way with many turns. Coronavirus has turned everything upside down, and most people have lost their way. It’s like going to a new place and get disoriented after waking up in the middle of the night.
Here in Uganda and other underdeveloped nations, life is much different from what you might be used to. A total lockdown means much more than simply not going to work. It means forgetting days of the week since you don’t own a mobile handle to keep you connected to the rest of the world through the web.
The scenario of the two women is a serious indication of how people have lost connection with God because they no longer go to church. There are no online Sunday services here so Sunday can pass unnoticed. Some very few churches have secured spots on different TV and radio stations to broadcast their Sunday services, but the drive to sit and watch a sermon is for the few that are truly committed to God. And not so many have TVs and radios.
Lockdown is still on until Tuesday 19th of May, after which most Ugandans are anticipating an extension. The president of Uganda is unrelenting on the issue of coronavirus. The things he says in the night will be laws by morning, and police will be ready to enforce them. Strict measures have been put in place and Uganda (and generally the whole African continent) has not yet received an overwhelming number of patients considering our weak national health care system. The number of confirmed cases in Uganda is now at 126, most of whom are truck drivers from the neighboring countries. No deaths have been recorded as of now and more than 50% of those cases have been discharged. This has made some people speculate that coronavirus is a hoax!
Our president is basing on this slow increase in the number of cases to keep the entire country in lockdown despite public outcry over other longstanding problems. Mr. Museveni, in a recent interview, said that Ugandans are not too poor to lack food. “Life is what matters most, ” he said. That’s true, but the degree to which people agree with the rationale of extending lockdown depends on how they understand the repercussions of the whole thing. Life, in order for it to be life, has to be sustained.
As I am writing this, I’m watching a bulletin on our local TV station showing a woman who was shot in the stomach this morning by an unidentified police officer. The woman, who is now crying for help, was using a motorcycle taxi to reach her place of work in Jinja town where she operates a small restaurant. Her intestines were eviscerated and the bullet is still lodged in her. All means of public transport are banned and law enforcement officers have often used excessive force on those that are defying the directives.
People have had to finally come out of their homes to make ends meet. The large numbers of people I see every day walking on the highway to and from Jinja town, without regard for social distancing rules, explain the struggle that people are going through to put food on the table. There has been an increase in police deployment in towns and along major highways in recent days due to large numbers of people that have chosen to resume their businesses by force. If coronavirus has already spread out into communities, then a totally different approach to its containment is needed. There’s no widespread community testing so the true picture of what we have could be poorly understood.
A careful study of predisposing factors and demographics would be an important guiding tool that governments should use to manage the situation. The low rate of infection in Africa cannot be solely attributed to the aggressive response of governments alone. Nature must have played an important role and this is important to understand.
President Museveni announced a new directive of wearing face masks for everyone who is outside of his or her home. All those people trekking daily to town are supposed to be wearing masks, but it looks like more than 90% of them do not. PPEs are only for those on the frontline (coronavirus testing and management centers) while surgical masks are largely unavailable for the public due to low supply and high demand from the health care system.
So creative people have locally started making them out of cloth materials. Their effectiveness though is highly debatable since they lack a micro filter and cannot block tiny particles like microorganisms. Each of such a mask costs about shillings 2,000 (less than a USD) and can be reused. Today, police in Kampala staged many roadblocks to block people from proceeding to the city center without masks.
So Ugandans wonder how long they will remain in lockdown since the virus may stay around for years, decades, or forever.