By Denis Jjuuko
You are probably reading this from home unable to leave for routines which were common only a few weeks or months ago. Coronavirus has put the entire world under unprecedented lockdown, a global state of emergency if you like. For us in Uganda, with 14 cases so far confirmed, it seems it is only a matter of time before a total lockdown is ordered.
Bill Gates, in a 2015 TED talk when Ebola was causing as much havoc in Africa, predicted and rightly that the world was unprepared for a viral pandemic. Countries, the Microsoft founder, said spent much more money on their military than on efforts that have much more dangerous consequences such a viral epidemic. His predictions have come to pass. I now understand why Bill Gates is the richest man in the world! He can predict the future in more ways than self-styled prophets can’t.
I have been thinking about Bill Gates’ talk and how his brain works. How he could study a situation so well in ways most of us can’t even begin to imagine. Over the weekend, some supermarket chains that have never really sold anything were packed wall to wall with shoppers. Prices of almost everything have gone up.
In western Europe and North America, people even fought over toilet paper — of all things. Here if we get into a total lockdown, the fights won’t be over toilet paper or even around supermarket shelves, rather in our homes. If the poor run out of food and suspect that you who has perimeter wall has some rice, they will come for it. Hungry men can be dangerous.
Already, businesses have started asking the majority of staff to work from home or go for unpaid leave. They are only allowing in critical staff to work from office. If you are among the people they have told to work from home, simply know that you job can easily be removed or outsourced. It isn’t critical, which is euphemism for “you aren’t that important we can easily replace you.”
So the economy world over is going to be affected. Look at our empty hotels today — staff are at home not just for the hotels rather for the entire value chain. Tomato growers and suppliers; beverage companies, distributors and transporters; and soap makers and their employees.
As the supply chain is broken so will businesses fail to pay for their loans and the result will be a global meltdown probably unprecedented. The world needs to quickly find treatment for this. The scientists argue that this may take time.
But crises are the best times to think of what can be done. As you self-isolate and quarantine or work from home, what else are you thinking about if you survive this crisis? Previously, on average anybody who works in Kampala was wasting fours in traffic every day. This means that anybody working from home all of sudden has an extra four hours on their hands. This is the time to study the coronavirus and its impact on the economy. When the world recovers as surely it will, what will you be supplying?
When coronavirus is defeated, businesses won’t simply pick up. It will take time. Some jobs will be lost forever but others will be created. There is need to quickly find business solutions needed for the post-corona world. There will be lots of opportunities.
I don’t have the powers of Bill Gates to predict the future but I can see real estate which was struggling contracting again as businesses and individuals renege on their loans. There are going to be a lot of foreclosures. For the capitalists, that would be the time to buy. Look at the stock exchange, you should be queuing up there not in supermarkets for toilet papers!
One positive thing about the coronavirus is the fact that it has taught Ugandans to wash hands and maintain some basic hygiene. The hand sanitizer industry is most likely to emerge as everyone keeps one to avoid diseases. Washing hands is a good thing to do and public places must maintain the facilities even when corona is long defeated.
As I have argued before, countries need to depend less than ever on imports. We need to develop industries here. Look at the automotive sector for example, it is the second biggest product on which Uganda spends more money importing after petroleum. Why aren’t vehicles made here?
Africa with all its arable land still imports food worth USD35 billion a year and it is predicted to reach USD110 billion by 2025. This is a narrative coronavirus must help us change.
The writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org