Re!gnite Africa is compiling case studies on how some Covid-19 related Presidential Orders affected the livelihood and wellbeing of young people in Uganda. It will be a 10-part series shared weekly.
With 3,037 cases, 1,489 recoveries, and 31 Covid-19 deaths registered so far (as of September 1st), one could argue that Uganda has had a controlled response to the pandemic, with better outcomes compared to her neighbors in the region. Nevertheless, this has come at a huge cost to the social-economic wellbeing of the most vulnerable in society. Groups such as unemployed young adults – who were already in an economically vulnerable situation pre-Covid-19 – are currently struggling to survive the season.
Unemployment levels are at an all-time high. Media reports have estimated that close to four million Ugandans, especially those living in Kampala have either lost jobs or have recorded a big decline in sales with their businesses. Thousands employed by sectors such as education, tourism, the arts and entertainment, air transportation, etc., have not earned an income from these sectors in over five months (and counting, for some). Yet, it is a well-known fact that Uganda has the largest population of young people in the world. Over 75% of the population is below 30 years of age. And yet, even with a national unemployment rate of 9.2% and an underemployment rate at approximately 23% (Source: Uganda National Household Survey 2016/2017), the employment challenge has always been a youth issue because the majority of the population affected is under 30.
Enter Covid-19 and the impact of curfew and the total lockdown. One of the most impactful measures and restrictions instituted by the government of Uganda was the ban on public passenger transportation nationwide. Young vulnerable populations rely on public forms of transport to work and others depend on these as sources of income for a living. These include boda boda drivers, taxi drivers, and conductors (Matutu operators), the majority of traders operating downtown in Kampala, street vendors, etc. For example, over 450,000 people, the majority in the youth bracket, are employed by the boda boda business in the capital city alone.
The ban on public passenger transportation not only heavily affected SMEs and low-income earners, especially those in the informal sector, who depended on daily income for survival, but also affected people in essential sectors such as health, food and agriculture, and media and journalism. Although many were meant to report to work daily, they did not have any means of transport, and thus losing their jobs in the process. Joyce Namugambe, a Journalist, and Writer was cut off from her workplace because of this particular ban on public passenger transportation. Below, Joyce shares further about this experience;
- Where did the Covid-19 outbreak in Uganda and lockdown find you? How did it affect your source of income?
After work, I went back home as usual. Later that evening, the President addressed the nation at around 8 pm. He officially announced the lockdown and a ban on public passenger transport. When I called my Editor to ask about how we are going to work, he told me he would communicate the following day after consulting with top management. When I reached out to him the next morning before leaving home for work, he told me that management had decided to stop us from working until further notice. I waited for the first 14 days of the lockdown and called again to ask if we are resuming work, and I was told that we would not be resuming working until the lockdown had been lifted. We ended up staying at home for more than two months, and this was a huge setback for someone like me who was paid per story reported. Yes, I had been given the option of working from home but without support for data and airtime to use in sourcing and filing stories, it became too costly and I stopped. Besides, the stories to be covered that season were very limited because a lot of people were home; including artists whose shows earned us some revenue whenever we reported about them.
- Besides giving orders, the government of Uganda made appeals for support from the public and the private sector and carried out some relief aid efforts around Kampala and a few major towns. What are your thoughts on this effort?
It is okay for people to offer support, but it should be done by those who can afford to do it. Unfortunately, people like me whose income was affected cannot engage in such support because we were are struggling to make ends meet for our families. As a matter of fact, we are looking forward to receiving relief aid from the government.
- Do you think the process in which these orders were executed responsible enough? Did the government play its part in ensuring that the impact of these orders was kept at a minimum?
I do not think the process was responsible enough because not everyone benefited from the relief government distributed yet the orders instructed everyone to stay at home and not go for work. The majority of donations to the government were broadcasted but not the distribution of these donations. For example; we watched on national TV donations of food to the government such as a lorry of Matooke, but never watched news showing how such matooke was distributed.
How is Joyce surviving now?
I have used my savings to start a firewood selling business to be able to meet necessities for my household and my two children. I am a single parent.
Reflecting on Joyce’s experience in relation to that of thousands of especially vulnerable populations, what observations and lessons about accountability and transparency can young people take away from all this?
Olumuyiwa, O. (2020, May 14). Uganda wants to regulate boda bodas by making them go digital. TechCabal. https://techcabal.com/2020/05/14/regulation-for-boda-bodas/
Socioeconomic impact of Covid-19 in Uganda: How has the government allocated public expenditure for FY2020/21? – Uganda. (n.d.). ReliefWeb. Retrieved September 2, 2020, from https://reliefweb.int/report/uganda/socioeconomic-impact-covid-19-uganda-how-has-government-allocated-public-expenditure
UNCDF. (2020, August). Uganda looks online for answers to COVID economic crisis. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1070102