The president yesterday delivered his much-anticipated address about the global viral outbreak COVID-19 at state house.
The speech, considering its brilliant and practical contents, delivered with some bits of humor and unnecessary Runyankore-English translations, wasn’t largely disappointing.
It of course didn’t miss out on the mid 19s’ historical events and flashbacks in the president’s life.
Typical of any Museveni address indeed.
Just like the president pointed out in his address, prevention is better than cure and it is an approach we should all embrace.
Basing on this, he announced that schools (including universities and tertiaries) should close, suspended religious gatherings, suspended entertainment, sports, bars, announced travel restrictions, and so on.
It is however important to understand that a country, or its running is a dynamic and complex phenomenon that requires a lot of considerations and reckoning before any decisions are made.
This is why in Britain it took the leadership quite some time before taking some very serious measures, despite the fact that they already had hundreds of COVID-19 cases at the time.
Unlike in Kenya, where similar far-reaching decisions were made recently after the outbreak, Uganda has decided to take a proactive approach, making it the first country in the world to move this faster than the virus, which is commendable, really.
Worthy to note though is, our efforts would be laughable if, God forbid, the virus still somehow finds its way into the country.
This is most likely by the way because even after putting all these measures in place, our borders and airport remain open.
One would have expected government to focus more on keeping the virus outside the borders, than to tamper with the in-country systems that haven’t been penetrated yet.
How would the virus come in to disrupt school if border restrictions are imposed?
Regardless, we should be proud as Ugandans that something has been done ahead of time and that this has been taken seriously like we never did with the locusts and other disasters. It looks like we have learned from the mistakes in the past.
Out of the so many questions that the president’s directive leaves unanswered include a pondering one on the travel of Ugandans from abroad, especially those from high risk countries who have been asked to stay back, postpone travel or come to Uganda and meet their quarantine costs.
Apparently, facilities that have been secured for quarantine in Entebbe go for at least $100 a day.
Considering the 14 days, this would come to $1400, not forgetting other costs that may come in to buy extra food, snacks, drinks, toiletries and other essentials.
A number of returning Ugandans especially from Asia and the Middle East are from work abroad, coming on annual vacation and these might not even earn more than $800 a month.
If you ask these people to cancel their trips, they will have to incur flight cancelation costs and also put up with an extra paid rent (in these countries) for the time they had planned to be back home.
The government seems to have made the decision oblivious of these financial implications on the vulnerable Ugandans who are out there hustling.
The government should therefore provide funds to take care of its own.
The other option is to just generally ban flights landing from these countries at Entebbe so that the burden of cancellation or postponement is not on the passenger but the airline, and then through the embassies in these respective countries, upon presentation of evidence of intended travel, the government should provide accommodation for Ugandans for the time they would have travelled.
The other big unanswered question is, what happens to Easter holidays?
According to the 2014 Census, 84% of Ugandans are Christians.
This means almost a whole nation of people who would want to mark and celebrate the most important event in Christianity- the death and resurrection of Christ.
From the president’s message, the 32 days suspension for religious gatherings will end 7 days after Easter.
Does this mean there will be no prayers, no celebrations, no travels, shopping, nothing? How will the lent season be crowned off?
What about Martyrs Day on June 3, assuming the virus persists?
I am not saying this is impossible to implement, I am just saying it is something the president should have considered addressing or advising about, other than completely leaving it out of the Coronavirus address.
And then with the closing of schools, are we going to get an explanation on what that means for the term?
Is the first term and second semester null and void?
Will there be an extension after school reopening, how will the school calendar be affected? Then closing bars.
Which bars exactly are we talking about? The local bar where on a good day, Kato usually hangs out with Kakuru and three of their friends to drink malwa?
Or the kind of uptown ‘Bar and Restaurant’ with hundreds of clients. And how about the restaurant part then?
And who is going to enforce these directives as they are prone to misinterpretation and abuse?
Then lastly, how do we justify closing a church and not a banking hall, restaurant, or any other work place that admits over 500 people a day?
There are like a million more questions an average Ugandan would have. Like why public transport which remains a major threat has not received mandatory directives from the president, but left to the operators to regulate?
As Uganda remains the coronavirus free island in the region, I understand how important it is that we maintain that exclusiveness, but let us avoid making lives of the already struggling Ugandans harder by even suggesting that they should spend large amounts of money to cope with some of these guidelines and measures.
The government should be fully in charge and cater for all the costs.
The citizenry should only be expected to participate and cooperate, with some reasonable and acceptable spending.
The author is a social critic