THE UNTOLD EXPERIENCE – Uganda, 2020

Kakuuma Eva
Kampala, 22 de Maio de 2020

It was already two months into 2020 and the corona virus was just ‘hearsay’ in my country, and actually unheard of in the remote parts of it. Only those who pay attention to international news were aware of the deadly virus in Wuhan (China). As Ugandans, we felt safe since the African Continent had not yet interfaced with the nightmare. Speculations on why Africans were not contracting the disease caused by corona virus filled the atmosphere and these kept our hopes for survival high. It was not so long when all our neighboring countries where marked infected. Panic ran through my country (most especially the urban areas) and a presidential address followed on 18th March 2020. The attention that was given to the president was a surprise as the recent years had seen a lot of political differences in the atmosphere. This marked the beginning of unity in fighting COVID-19!

As far as communicated by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is caused by a corona virus and it is described by symptoms such as dry cough, flu, headache, running nose, fever, sore throat, and high body temperature. It is spread when one gets into contact with already infected droplets from the soft parts of the body (that is, the eyes, nose, and mouth) and they go ahead to touch their soft parts too. The preventive measures therefore are frequent washing of our hands with soap, sanitizing them, social distancing (which includes quarantining), and avoiding to touch the soft parts of the body.

Whereas it sounds easy and cheap to deal with the disease, a lot of behavioral management is needed as it is almost impracticable not to touch one’s eyes, mouth, and nose. The difficulties brought by the pandemic therefore started with the preventive measures of the disease. If one has to continue touching their face, then they should be sure to frequently wash their hands and use sanitizers. Do these requirements sound so affordable? Yes they are, but not when they have to be used at all times in a lockdown when people’s income sources have been shut down. The preventive measure of social distancing has been used before when diseases such as Ebola, Small pox, Hepatitis among others hit Uganda but it was not as extensive as that observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no old-aged to tell of an experience in History where all schools (both high and low institutions), and other social services that we thought we could never do without close.

With sincerity, I wish to sadly note that whereas COVID-19 has robbed many of their lives in other countries, Uganda has lost its people to famine and torture. As of 22nd May 2020, there are 160 confirmed cases, 60 active cases, 75,742 samples tested, 65 recoveries, 69 self-exit cases, 18,128 high risk travelers.(I) There are zero deaths of COVID-19 patients but many deaths accruing to the consequences of the mandatory lock down in Uganda. A big percentage of Uganda’s citizens feed on what they earned in the day and so even when one had savings, such savings can’t sustain them and the family for more than a month. Some police officers and security officers from the Local Defense Unit have also taken advantage of the situation by misinterpreting the presidential directive on curfew and restriction on transport. ‘Armed variously with guns, whips and teargas canisters, security officers in several African countries have been beating, harassing and, in some cases, killing people as they enforce measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19,’ Dickens Olewe of BBC News reported.(II) Another famous scenario of torture amidst the pandemic in Uganda is where popular Member of Parliament, Francis Zaake was arrested and reportedly brutalized by police because he distributed food to his people. Initially, according to the presidential directives food was to be collected from donators and only distributed through the government task force. Honorable Francis Zaake was therefore allegedly seeking cheap popularity from his voters while endangering their lives in the process. The Human Rights Watch condemned the acts of torture against the Honorable Member of Parliament who was denied visits while in hospital and it stated that pandemic or not, human rights have to be respected.

Due to the restriction of public and private transport, expectant mothers have also lost their lives and their babies on top of getting complications as they have to walk long distances to access health centers. Those who have been arrested for not meeting curfew time have been flogged and some even lost their lives. Whereas the Government of the Republic of Uganda promised to donate food to the vulnerable poor, a small percentage of these have got the food. National news are always broadcasting mothers, children, men, the old and the young crying out for food and for ‘good samaritans’ to come to their rescue.

The positive consequence of the lockdown is that people have got time for their families and this has created more love and unity for family. However, barbaric cultures in my country, especially those against women have taken a toll during this pandemic. Domestic violence (against both male and female) is on the rise in many families and it is even more worrying since such cases are not being considered in the courts of law as of now. The immediate office available (the police), is busy making sure that people stay at home and follow the presidential directives. The local news have reported of husbands who have chased away their wives because they can no longer take care of them. Some have committed suicide and murdered their family members for the fear of dying of starvation the next day. There are very many donations being made to Uganda but the government task force has not done its best in distributing the food. Also, if a neighbor wanted to save such a family, they’re restrained by the fear for the outcome of failing to failing to follow presidential directives on the distribution of food as in the Francis Zaake scenario.

Talking about school? …it could be rude to say we are hopeless but what better way is there to describe the situation. The lockdown was implemented before even exams were done. This has created a lot of disorganization and financial losses to the Ministry of Education, schools, universities, parents, and students. Finalists especially have suffered trauma as they have to set new goals and change a time frame for their dreams. As for my case, graduation would be in July but no one knows when this will end. A case study of the situation of students at university shows that many students who were not able to go back home (especially International students) have succumbed to sleeping on empty stomachs. Whereas more developed countries have defeated this academic lagging by use of online platforms to hold online classes, exams, and graduations, it has not been possible for Uganda to do the same. Firstly, due to the financial strain, and also the fact that studying without the physical interaction with a teacher is alien to us. The situation has not gotten any better; the more COVID-19 patients detected in a day, the tighter the lockdown restrictions get.

Our beloved ones who had recently entered the country are being discriminated against. No one wants to know how they’re feeling. This is so because the first and all subsequent COVID19 cases have been persons who just traveled back to Uganda. After our first case was reported, the government stopped the landing of all passenger planes and all other borders were also locked. Unfortunately, Uganda being a landlocked country, she had to get out of her nest by allowing cargo trucks to continue coming into the country. Moreover, most of the cases that are recorded daily are truck drivers who bring cargo into the country. These have brought more tension especially in the communities situate at the borders. When these truck drivers enter the country, they interact with various people such as engineers at the weighing stations. It’s also sad to note that young girls who have been practicing prostitution for a livelihood at the borders have fallen prey to the already infected truck drivers. Although the ministry of health has done its best, the attitude of the community towards these people is not positive. It’s obviously not fair on their side because many of them travel abroad in search for a living and for many other essential reasons. Everyone is battling with their own fears…there’s no safe place outside your own space!

To sum up it all, the corona virus pandemic is an experience that has never been told in History. A global lockdown is new to everyone. There’s no manual to follow, no scripts by great thinkers to revisit. Economies like Uganda’s that are still developing have been threatened. The survivors of this will testify that there’s a purpose to every life.

Kakuuma Eva

(I) www.health.go.ug
(II) www.bbc.com