There’s certainly no doubt that by the time the world is done and dusted with the COVID-19 pandemic, many things will have changed. And may be, changed for good. To recover from the debilitating economic effects of COVID-19, societies will most likely become more self-centered, and possibly self-reliant. Probably this will finally mark the end of the patronizing era of ‘aid to Africa’.
Any way, that is really besides my main reason for penning this article. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a video of a local Pastor (Augustine Yiga) making rounds on social media. In the video, the pastor alleged that there wasn’t coronavirus in Uganda, even after the Ministry of Health confirming 23 cases then (the cases have since gone up to 53). His counsel took me aback. I hope that as Uganda settles in for the long haul of this difficult journey, each of us is able to challenge any irresponsible statements, which clash with everything so far known about the coronavirus outbreak.
This is not the time to ‘defy’ reality or give a false sense of security to the country’s people about the disease and their risk of infection. The talk of COVID-19 being a simple flue, which doesn’t kill ‘Africans’, is not only racist, but it is also foolish. The trends of infections and deaths in Africa can confirm how idiotic such talk is. Shockingly, it is some so-called elites that are peddling such narratives. Just like renowned actor, Idris Elba said recently, “this disease does not discriminate”. So, know that you can save your life and lives of others by following the guidelines issued by health authorities. Simple guidelines like: washing hands with soap and water as frequently as possible, exercising respiratory hygiene (when coughing or sneezing), practicing social (physical) distancing, and avoiding crowds are no longer an option but rather a must – if we are to control this run-away pandemic.
Judging from the COVID-19 death rate in Italy or Spain, it would only take a matter of weeks for each family in Uganda to lose a member to the pandemic. And who knows, that family member could be the breadwinner of the household.
This is a hard-life and death situation at hand. And we all must understand it as such. It calls for shading off any form of political prejudices, and launching a joint combat against this unprecedented threat to humanity. In fact, my call is a more specific one; to our beloved politicians and civic actors. This is the time to lend all necessary support to government to fight a good fight.
However, as everybody does whatever they can to ensure that government leads well on this front, government equally owes it to its people to put up a transparent fight. As people are asked to make more and more sacrifices in their daily lives for the greater good of public health, the legitimacy of government decision-making remains at the core.
The public must see government arriving at key decisions through a transparent and participatory manner. People must see government being frugal, sensitive and responsive in the manner in which it mobilizes and utilizes resources during this time of a national crisis. This is not an ‘opportunity’to ‘make quick money’. Government actions should be clearly explained to the public in order to boost popular confidence in the fight against COVID-19.
Government must walk with its people every step of the way, on this one. For instance, the special guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 must be well explained to the people; and their implementation must be rationalized.
Whereas I shine a special spotlight on government, this is not an exclusive fight for government. It is a fight for humanity. As government shares information around COVID-19 prevention and response, it is therefore the responsibility of each citizen to accurately transmit that information to friends and family. There has probably never been a time when each one of us is called to be a brother or sister’s keeper like now.
Spreading appropriate awareness about coronavirus is something that many Ugandans can and should do. Those privileged to own hand-held smart devices can in fact share correct awareness information through their social media platforms. They too should be emissaries of the fight against disinformation and fake news with regard to COVID-19.
It is commendable that local celebrities, corporates, media, development partners, our men and women in uniform, religious and cultural institutions have led the way by stepping up efforts to address the spread and immediate effects of COVID-19. More must be done though (by everybody else).
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should jump into the fray more proactively. In fact, as government contemplates cushioning Ugandans against the socio-economic effects of the pandemic, NGOs too can adapt their programming; invest in mobilizing donations for daily-wage laborers in Kampala, and other townships countrywide, make arrangements to feed those living in slums, mobilize basic hygiene kits for vulnerable communities, support community surveillance efforts around COVID-19 etc. These are practical things that organisations can do beyond raising awareness on the looming pandemic.
In this critical time, it would certainly be very absurd for NGOs to hoard resources they have, simply because COVID-19 was never integrated in their work plans, ‘log frames’ or budgets that they wrote a couple of years ago. That would be the highest degree of insensitivity. Whether a service delivery or advocacy-based NGO, responding to this global pandemic should the number one priority.
Government cannot work alone in responding to the crisis. This must be a concerted effort. Each one should support government-coordinated response through innovative partnerships.
When all is said and done, it is very likely that society will judge institutions and individuals by what they did to stop the pandemic rather than what (non-related) glamorous plans they will have after COVID-19.
The rallying call of these difficult times is that we are all in this together. I invite you to do the simple but important things first; follow the Ministry of Health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, and remember to stay safe – always!