By Ricky Rapa Thomson
The most important thing to a Ugandan is a means to provide for themselves and their family. Nothing else comes close. For the vast majority of Ugandans, this means doing the daily hustle. This hustle can take many forms, it can be selling avocados in the market, transporting milk to the trading centre, breaking rocks into gravel for road construction or cleaning a person’s house. For me it was boda boda. Allowing me to work through the day and night and earning cash in my pocket every day laid the foundation of my economic empowerment. What academics and rich people call the “informal economy” in Uganda is actually the “economy” and the foundation of our country. In 2021 supporting our Ugandan economy will be even more important. The youth need to be allowed to work.
Covid-19 presented challenges for everyone in Uganda. We didn’t know what it was and the government did a good job to reduce the spread of the disease. The Ministry of Health ensured the damage was very limited particularly compared to other countries and compared to other diseases that kill thousands and thousands of Ugandans each month such as HIV/AIDs, respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and road safety accidents. The lockdown was needed at first while we protected our vulnerable, most commonly our elderly. Today, however we still have a very strong lockdown that is hurting our economy. Boda boda has a special restriction to 6pm which greatly hurts us. We are still prevented from working, even as matatu operators are allowed to operate further into the evening. This has greatly impacted boda boda earnings by as much as 50% putting the 1.2m boda boda youth and their families in serious financial trouble.
In 2021, we all need to be able to get back to our daily hustle. This doesn’t mean we need the government to give us free cash transfers like citizens receive in the USA or Europe, but simply the government needs to let us get back to work. Fully opening up the economy is the most important thing for us all as Ugandans.
Looking at our East African neighbours, Kenya has implemented a 10pm curfew and is pushing for full economic recovery, for example allowing their boda boda to fully operate. It has supported small businesses by enabling lower costs of the internet and pushed Safaricom and Airtel to reduce fees on M-PESA transactions, greatly helping the hustle of the normal Kenyans. In Tanzania, their President largely ignored Covid-19 and let the economy go on. While it was very risky, the impact doesn’t seem as bad compared to the destruction of income of normal people seen in other African countries, putting them back years in their economic empowerment.
We know Covid-19 is dangerous, however, we have shown that Ugandans can live with Covid-19 through mask-wearing and hand-washing as shown by the Private Sector Foundation (PSFU) Tugobe Corona Wear a Mask campaign led by Chairman Elly Karunanga. SafeBoda and other boda boda leaders across the industry were proud supporters of this movement and we continue to push for mask wearing of our SafeBoda drivers.
Uganda needs to recover economically. We are seeing the first economic recession in decades with all the development we have worked on being nearly destroyed. We need to save our young people from further poverty. As a Ugandan, I am requesting for us to open our economy, greatly extend the curfew, and let us all get back to work.
Ricky Rapa Thomson is the Co-Founder & Director of SafeBoda, Inspirational Speaker, Forbes 30 under 30 Africa. Started in Kyebando, Kampala, SafeBoda (www.safeboda.com) is one of Africa’s leading start-ups.