Prior to first wave of COVID-19 in 2020, Uganda grappled with structural inequality in access to healthcare, education, opportunity all built on wide income-inequality.
Effects of 2020 COVID-19 were harsh to all-the taxpayers thus capping Uganda’s economic growth to 3.0% not projected 6.4% at the beginning of last 2020/21 fiscal year.
The budget speech for FY 2021/22, therefore, strives to push Uganda’s economy growth to 3.3% which mirrors a buttered national economy.
It thus becomes hard to deny the unsaid truth-every Ugandan felt and will continue to be impacted by COVID-19 havoc. But impacts haven’t fallen equally as vulnerable people who were adversely hit by 2020 lockdowns live extremely appalling lives now owing to wide preexisting inequality.
We grappled with youth unemployment crisis before. Now flanked by general loss-of-jobs by more people after inevitable closure of especially small businesses and urban informal jobs where people derived livelihoods, we should prepare for a probable poverty disaster.
As they were attempting to resurrect from severe shocks, government subjected victims of COVID-19-induced restrictions to a 42-day marathon lockdown again to contain deadlier COVID-19 variant!
The complex question popped in inequality-stricken people’s minds was; should we save lives threatened by COVID-19 or die of hunger under lockdown? Despite good intent, lockdown and guidelines therein will deepen inequality as follows;
Lockdown guidelines are discriminatory based on both people’s economic and social status because educated and skilled employees continue advancing their careers amid earning incomes-elites’ work model is compatible to internet-supported work from home new normal.
Their counterparts mostly in informal sector whose labor-force is either least-educated or unskilled are totally closed down and unable to afford digitalised work-model to continue earn livings which will obviously, reinforce vicious cycle-income-inequality between elites and poor.
Already, access to education was uneven-rich children could access quality education in elite private schools while deprived children largely accessed poor quality education in most of Universal Primary and Secondary Education institutions.
COVID-19-inspired lockdowns, closed education institutions to millions of learners for more than a year now.
Lockdown affect learners differently as they meant evaporation of physical education to shift lessons to both radios and TVs.
Internet is another channel through which a new digitalised learning model is being transmitted to learners.
However, it’s expensive to deprived children who cannot afford to pay requisite 12% tax-levied on internet-access.
The state-of-affairs which advantages rich children going to international schools whose calendars were not fatally affected means further disparities in both school completion and education attainment to result into deeper lifelong inequality.
Our healthcare system was untenable but majority policymakers, pretended-things were well just because they could afford taxpayers’ colossal monies in acquiring specialised treatment abroad at expense of domestic health system where ordinary citizens run for treatment.
Our spirited advocacy to improve healthcare repeatedly fell on deaf ears but COVID-19 came to halt VIPs’ medical tourism-they know the magnitude of fragility in our public healthcare system-they recognise deplorable truth-our healthcare system is rooted in liberalised economy whose life-blood is profit-making-not putting people’s lives first.
True, poorer healthcare system has not spared Uganda’s rich, but it has fatally impacted the poor.
There are undocumented brutal, but silent deaths deprived people in communities have met during these troublesome times courtesy of either COVID-19 or succumbing to other ailments almost halted to focus on COVID-19.
Victims were either unable to confront exorbitant COVID-19-associated fees or had no means to access drugs to take-care-of-ailments.
COVID-19 is widening gender inequality in Uganda through increasing gender-based violence against women and girls, both teenage pregnancies and child marriages and it exceptionally, add to unpaid domestic and care work burden, driving women out-of-labor force.
Already, women spend more than weekly 54 hours on unpaid and domestic care-work while men spend just 13.5 hours.
Given all-around revealed crises, policymakers ought to wear equity lens to alleviate biting lockdown’s effects if we are to rebuild back better.
Freeing Ugandans from structural inequality means government’s more investment in affordable public healthcare, education, creation of equal opportunities to prosperity through lowering and rescinding unfair taxes contained in 2021/22 budget which contribute to skyrocketing standards of living.
Should policymakers maintain thick-skin character henceforth, let’s prepare for a more unequal Uganda not a more equal, inclusive and prosperous society envisioned by 17 SDGs by 2030.
The writer is Programs Manager @equalitynow_ug