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.
If anything, the outbreak of COVID-19 in Uganda and the subsequent impact of lockdown and restrictions in movement have exposed our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as an economy and country. Everything about how we live, work, and do business has been tested. One big revelation from this new normal has been the fact that Uganda’s informal and uncoordinated sector cannot easily transfer to digital ways of doing business (e-commerce), and that it will take us a while to get where we want to be if we do not act upon the lessons we are learning from the new normal. The government must spearhead efforts to digitize the economy – both formal and informal – to ensure that a conducive environment favorable to all businesses is available to all.
Ssozi Arthur Grace’s life completely changed when the first case of the virus was registered in Uganda. Arthur, commonly known by his moniker Arthur Draws, was a full-time graphics designer employed by a small business stationed at Mukwano Arcade in downtown Kampala. His job was among thousands lost by many in the informal sector when the government suspended the operation of shopping arcades, hardware shops, and malls because they gather a lot of people to sell and buy non-food items.
The initial 14 days indicated for the lockdown and total shutdown of business premises turned into four months (and more for those arcades still not yet approved for business operations) of no work. Many young people in the sector lost jobs. According to media reports, the United Nations Capital Development Fund estimated, at the beginning of the lockdown, that 4.4 million workers in the informal sector would either see their earnings fall below the poverty line or dry up completely. On the African continent, the informal sector provides employment to over 65% of the population, and vulnerable poor made up of especially women, youth. For an economy with the majority of the population in the informal sector and without a digital presence/footprint to their work, the lockdown bringing everything to a halt was a huge wake-up call to these small-scale business owners. Because the sector is mostly made of the working-class population, many uneducated about digital technology and e-marketing, many failed to move their business operations online.
Understandably, the crisis did not give anyone time to prepare, and a lot of institutions and governments worldwide are figuring it all out as they go along. However, this predicament many traders who rely on informal businesses in such places as arcades needed more support than what the government offered in form of measures and guidelines for the four months of suspension.
Arthur thinks that the initial 34 presidential orders in March were the right steps to take considering the newness of everything for everyone. He says, ‘’As time went by, the Government failed to take steps such as providing loan discounts to people to overcome the side effects of the total lockdown.’’
Arthur feels that ‘’the rules were more oppressive to the low-income earners…For example, arcade tenants were required to pay rent for the months they spent at home in lockdown, and government gave a dead ear.’’
He adds that the government failed to account for all the relief they received and shamefully went ahead to ask for more money from the national treasury. For example, in Wakiso where Arthur lives, people did not receive food relief as promised. Other recommendations youth made to the government in relation to supporting those reliant on the informal sector include the following;
- Must work with responsible ministries to provide relief packages such as non-repayable cash grants and tax holidays to small and medium enterprises, and informal sector workers.
- Must invest in e-commerce to smoothen adaptability to the new ways working;
- This would include the removal of over-the-top (OTT) or commonly referred to as social media tax and providing all citizens with free to internet to lessen the digital inequality gap.
- Provide informal sector businesses with relief packages such as cash nonrepayable grants
Case compiled by Atim Rachel and Ssozi Arthur Grace
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Independent, T. (2020c, July 14). Government to reopen 48 arcades in Kampala. The Independent Uganda: https://www.independent.co.ug/government-to-reopen-48-arcades-in-kampala/
KACITA Moves to Forcefully Reopen Arcades Tuesday—Online news from Uganda and the East African region—SoftPower News. (1 hour ago). Online News from Uganda and the East African Region – SoftPower News – News. PR. Communications. https://softpower.ug/kacita-moves-to-forcefully-reopen-arcades-tuesday/
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