By Denis Jjuuko
Twelve months ago, the world was full of optimism celebrating yet another end of the year. Many resolutions were made for 2020. Then the pandemic at a scale probably never seen before broke out. At first, it looked like it would be contained and won’t disrupt the world the way it has.
Countries started locking down, imposing unprecedented travel restrictions in the modern era. Apart from conventional wars, including the two world wars, the COVID-19 level of disruptions is unheard of. The economic crisis of 2008 doesn’t come close.
Contracts were suspended or canceled. Jobs were lost forever. The health sector became overwhelmed with the rising numbers of people who need treatment. The cost of keeping a patient alive shot through the roof. Testing for COVID-19, a first step in the treatment and management of the disease is unaffordable to millions of Ugandans. This has actually led to many asymptomatic patients unknowingly spreading the disease to their loved ones.
Many of our relatives and friends have been buried — people we were chatting with days before only to hear the saddest news of their death leaving frustrated inconsolable family members. The economy has tanked as many businesses went under and their owners and workers are looking at a bleak future. Some will recover, many others won’t. Foreclosures everywhere. It has been a year of heartaches. There is nobody who hasn’t been affected in one way or another.
In Uganda, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out at the worst possible time as the country is preparing for the 2021 general elections. Elections in Uganda cause a lot of disruptions in the economy and the ways of lives of many people as they always turn out violent. A simple gathering of people is dispersed by teargas and live bullets. Stolen elections led to a protracted war that led to the death of millions of people. Investors local and foreign keep their money away during this period.
Just this month, somebody called me saying he had Shs100m which he had been saving over the years. He had ruled out investing it because he wasn’t sure whether there is any business that could work. The purpose of his call was actually bizarre because he wanted to know whether to keep his savings in the bank or at home. He said the November shootings had scared him to the bones. He wasn’t sure of the best way to keep his savings. A person like that if he gets a chance to invest outside the country he will. An investment of Shs100m in Uganda can get a few youths out of the street into somewhat meaningful employment.
Usually poor countries have money to invest in public heath, education, and transport but our priorities are always about keeping the regime in power. There is no poor country on earth that has ever failed to stock enough guns, bullets, teargas and such other stuff, which are always used on unarmed civilians. Money is only scarce when it comes to paying teachers and nurses a decent wage or putting in place a public transport system that works.
Amidst all the despair caused by the election shenanigans and the COVID-19 pandemic, we should retain hope. It is the only thing that can make us see the glass as half full instead of half empty. That way we can start the year thinking ahead. If we lose hope, then there is nothing that could make this country work.
Already there is some light at the end of the tunnel— the light that isn’t of an incoming train. The leading pharma companies managed to come up with a vaccine that is said to work, which will stop the spread of the coronavirus if a significant number of people get access to it. Although COVID-19 has caused much more problems in the developed countries, poor countries like Uganda may completely be left behind leading to more deaths and an economy that will take decades to recover.
The disruptions caused by COVID-19 and the general elections require taking a candid look at our priorities to ensure that we can have many of the young people in employment, earning a decent wage. I know that could be a tall order but that’s where the country needs to focus if it wants an economy that works for everyone.
Have a new year full of hope folks.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. [email protected]