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.
In August 2020, the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development announced that it has secured 6.6 billion Ugandan shillings as a stimulus package to artists who have been without work for six months (as of September 10th) as a result of the COVID-19 presidential ban on the sector. This was a move in the right direction for an industry that generates more than shs. 3.5 billion of total business income to the economy. It was a step in the right direction for the livelihood and economic wellbeing of millions of Ugandans who have been unemployed as a result of a ban that put an end to all forms of art-related public gatherings (shows and theatres) in the visual and performing arts sectors.
The arts sector in Uganda has grown exponentially in the past few years. Young people are embracing the sector and heavily rely on it for survival. In fact, the 2020 KQ Hub Africa COVID-19 Arts Impact Survey stated that 80% of artists and Artist organization representatives rely on these community events for a large portion of their income to supplement their freelance earnings and sustain their livelihoods.
Although the ministry says that it is currently mapping stakeholders and developing a list of artists for the stimulus package, including a component that will engage the youth, citizens do not trust that it will deliver on its promise to artists. Many questions have been raised. For example, is the plan to have all artists at the national level benefit from this package? If yes, who is compiling the list?
In this case, we reflect on the impact of the ban on a young poet’s life and wellbeing below:
Thank you for agreeing to share with us your experience since lockdown. What is your name, and what do you currently do for a living?
My name is Lule Raymond and Ssebo Lule is my artist/pen name. I’m a Luganda performance poet, author, and recording artist. I produce poetry for a living.
Where did COVID-19 and Uganda’s lockdown find you? How did it affect your source of income?
It found me in Kampala. In the week the lockdown was implemented, I was to start rehearsals for a poetry production at the national theatre. Also, I had a series of other performances that got cancelled to comply with the president’s directives. Since I am a performing artist, I earn by sharing with the world my experiences through words and body expressions. This means that my presence is crucial to my business operations. The lockdown cut off all kinds of movement, gathering and physical interaction, and hence affected my sources of income greatly. I have poetry that’s published and available in bookshops, but those too were closed till recently.
As a Poet, how did the government’s ban on activities by artists and creatives affect you and your livelihood?
The ban has been an eye-opener. It’s pushed me into a state where I have to come up with new ways of interacting with my audience; digitally through social media and/or doing delivery services for the physically available works I create. The experience also brews questions in my mind about relying on art as the sole source of income. Tough. Unreasonable too, after the acknowledgment that artists don’t fall under the “essential workers” category. My workplaces are still under lockdown, so I earn only a small percentage of what I used to. It’s a hard blow in the belly. The effects of the lockdown are more psychological than the agony that comes from staring at an empty plate. I am uncertain about what awaits me after all this.
Besides giving orders, the government of Uganda made appeals for support from the public and private sector and carried out some relief aid efforts around Kampala and a few major towns. What are your thoughts on the process?
I feel that the government denied us the chance of giving it a hand by helping the people in our communities. I understand why our leaders would want to be the pivot of everything but prohibiting us from offering something to their neighbors wasn’t the best idea since the government relief aid didn’t reach every corner of the country. Reading names of contributors? Come on! Then the spirit of charity is lost and it becomes about having one’s name go through the president’s teeth at 8 pm like the last piece of meat pulled out by a toothpick. The process was marked by incompetence. Nothing new. We all know poor our government is at keeping its word.
How accountable was the government in the process of issuing these orders? Did the government play its part in ensuring that the impact of these orders was kept at a minimum?
No. The police (LDU especially) was barbaric and unforgiving; confronting innocent citizens and maiming them, asking for a bribe, and so on. That’s not how directives are implemented, is it? You don’t exert such pressure on people who are desperate to survive. I think that the lockdown also exposed the level of miscommunication among the different government bodies; security officials working against the newly passed orders. And every phase of orders seemed like it was made in a rush, and needed to be revised after complaints from the public. The government’s biggest clownism has been letting its own officials (ministers, MPs, police officers) get away with defying the orders it sets. Who sets the example, huh? Gavumenti mweddeko!
Compiled by Racheal Atim
How creative industries can solve unemployment. (2018, September 6). New Vision. https://www.newvision.co.ug/news/1485261/creative-industries-solve-unemployment
Ian, W. J. (2020). COVID-19 AND ITS IMPACT ON UGANDA,S CREATIVE INDUSTRY. 12.
Independent, T. (2020, August 11). Artists to get UGX 6.6Bn Covid-19 stimulus. The Independent Uganda: https://www.independent.co.ug/artists-to-get-ugx-6-6bn-covid-19-stimulus/