Ever since Uganda registered its first case of the novel coronavirus, there
were warnings such as “stay at home”, “wash your hands” and “cancel social
gatherings of more than 10 people”, which were largely accepted by many
But the recent nationwide lockdown imposed by the government has created
anxiety among a people known to be freewheeling and defiant of authority. For
the first time in decades, Kampala streets are clear of vehicle and human
traffic as Ugandans cannot walk, shop, socialise or even congregate for prayer
The majority of Ugandans are now staying at home following President
Museveni’s two-week nationwide lockdown order that, according to him, aims to
curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The unprecedented lockdown took effect on March 30, devastating life
nationwide but especially in the capital Kampala, which is known in the region
as East Africa’s Entertainment Capital.
Even the few businesses that are allowed to operate as the pandemic rages,
such as food stalls, financial institutions and healthcare services providers,
are not allowed to go beyond 7:00 PM. Life is shut down between this time and
6:30 AM — with all kinds of movements prohibited.
“If people were not behaving carelessly, we wouldn’t have spread the
virus. Since we are not sure, we should not take risks,” Mr Museveni said
on March 31 after his country registered 44 cases of the novel coronavirus.
The curfew, Museveni said, was one of the ways of mitigating misdemeanour
as criminals take advantage of the situation. But the majority of Ugandans have
not seen it fit to impose such stringent measures and are agitated by the fact
that they have to cede their basic rights to the government in the name of
With the country’s economy in ruins and many people struggling to pay their
bills, it’s clear that Ugandans are in no position to cope with the current
lockdown, especially if it’s to be extended for more than two weeks.
Although the government has promised to give food aid to needy people,
their plight highlights the dangers posed by the lockdown — that it is most
likely to worsen hunger and poverty in the country.
Most Ugandans think the new rules will only serve to “kill” more
people due to the resultant hunger as most of them are low income,
hand-to-mouth earners who have now been rendered redundant.
Don Mugabi Anthony, a Ugandan self-styled philanthropist based in Turkey,
piqued Ugandans’ curiosity when he posted on his Facebook wall that his efforts
to extend a helping hand to starving Ugandans were thwarted by the government’s
move to put the entire country on total lockdown.
He said: “I know it’s on a sad note that at the moment the country is
in a miserable state because of the #Pendamic_Covid19. Though I’m not in the
country, I had directed my team in Uganda to supply food and other necessities
in the areas of Kampala City, Mukono, Jinja and Iganga. But due to the measures
put in place by the government, my team couldn’t make it.”
His post saw a myriad people posting their mobile phone numbers in the
comments section asking him to send them the assistance through mobile money,
evidence that many people are already grappling with lack of necessities such
Defiance in Kampala suburbs
The socio-economic dangers posed by the lockdown are highlighted by
Ugandans’ current defiance. Odongo, a resident of Bweyogerere on the outskirts
of Kampala, said in a Facebook post: “In my ghetto, everyone is outside.
Shops are open and mobile money dealers are in terrific business.”
And it’s the same story in most areas where security personnel have not
been deployed to ensure that Museveni’s directive is obeyed. In most Kampala
suburbs, it’s almost business as usual, with many shops and other businesses
seen operating as if the owners have not heard of the president’s directive.
“Where I am, boda bodas (motorcycle-taxis) are carrying people,
private vehicles are moving, and just a few seconds ago I saw a boda boda
carrying two police officers,” said Richard Asiimwe, without revealing his
But it’s a different story in the city centre, where those that have
flouted Museveni’s directive have faced the wrath of the police. As Gail Walter
notes, “Today there was violence in Kampala with widespread beating and
canings by the police/military, against Ugandans using transportation. It will
likely be worse tomorrow. I think we may have entered martial law… or very
close to it.”
Politically motivated lockdown?
It’s understandable why Ugandans are reluctant to comply with Museveni’s
new rules. Many think that the president’s orders are politically motivated and
that his government is using the coronavirus excuse to clamp down on the
By April 1, only 44 coronavirus cases had been reported in the country,
with no single death. And almost all of the cases were imported, meaning there
was no local transmission or, even if the virus was being locally transmitted,
it wasn’t worth writing home about.
“Let’s pray. These are indeed rough times and hurtful moments. My heart
is so heavy right now. Even though some of these directives may be for a good
cause, I think they are politically motivated,” said Leonard Chemtai,
another Kampala resident.
And yet politics, as would have been expected, is largely at play. In his latest
address to the nation, the president strongly warned socialites and politicians
against distributing food to needy Ugandans, labelling the act as “cheap
popularity” — albeit tongue-in-cheek.
He said: “I call upon the different politicians who are busy making
distributions of rations to our people… put aside your love for popularity
and politics and avoid calling people to gather in the name of giving them
food. If you genuinely have a contribution to make, get in touch with the
national task force that is in charge and we shall be grateful.
“In return, you can as well gain your popularity, we shall record your
name and give you all the publicity you want, even if you want to sleep on TV.
Most importantly, God will recognise and reward you.”
As aways, leading opposition politicians were quick to hit back at
Museveni. “I think that Mr Museveni is mismanaging his political
embarrassment. He thinks that people trying to fill the gaping holes in what
would be State (public) deliverables are undermining his power. Yet, it’s clear
that he’s running a bankrupt and dysfunctional State,” said Forum for
Democratic Change’s Dr Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s strongest opponent for the
last two decades.
“Surely, Ugandans know who leads in shamelessly giving political
handouts (on camera) using taxpayers’ money,” Dr Besigye added.