President Y. K. Museveni made yet another presidential address to the nation, specifically on the state of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite a long speech, many people were left with their mouth open. The fact on the ground is sour. Poverty is on the rise, one day at a time. Many people, especially the youth, are helpless. Folks who run restaurants, saloons, bars, and so many teachers in private schools are having tough times. Uganda does not track unemployment numbers in terms of people lining up at the Ministry of Labour or Finance to claim for unemployment benefits. If that was the case, the government would have clarity of the problem at hand and more proactive strategies to manage the pandemic by ‘learning to live with it’ instead of the ‘life without the virus’ strategy which the government adopted albeit at a huge economic cost.
I know of people who are workers in businesses that have seen the full wrath of the pandemic – these include saloon owners, bars and restaurant businesses, and private schools. From classical investment theory, those investments represent a well-diversified portfolio. Not this time. It is now three months, and these businesses are still closed. Imagine the accumulating monthly rental bills that the President has not talked about yet!
Ok, let’s get to the point. Below is the speech many people expected. If I was the President’s speechwriter, that is the speech I should have suggested to him. Here we go.
Countrymen and countrywomen:
1. Thanks for your confidence in our leadership during these tough times. Our pandemic response interventions have always been informed by data analytics, science, national values, and common sense.
2. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) has been collecting data working closely with the Ministry of Health (MOH). Tests conducted within the last 90 days show a shift of high-risk areas from track drivers (thanks to tougher measures implemented), to now porous borders – specifically Kyotera, and Amuru, with 62 and 59 new cases responsively.Since many people end up in Kampala, new cases are increasing now at 37.
3. Makerere University in partnership with UBOS and MOH experts developed a data model to predict the COVID1-19 impact in Uganda. Three scenarios (in terms of pandemic severity) were examined:
a. Worst case scenario -1% of the population becomes infected. That means 400,000 infected Ugandans within four (4) months – a rate of 100,000 per month would be catastrophic. Our current health facilities can only absorb 1,000 people adequately, at a time. And that is why we have not registered any fatality. At a new infection rate of 100,000 monthly, over 90,000 people would become helpless. And that could turn into a mass massacre. Given the nature of this virus, all our gains could be lost and make this worst-case scenario possible. As your president, I cannot let this happen. Together, we shall protect our country against this pandemic with your cooperation and discipline. If we open the economy fully, without any restrictions whatsoever, we could risk this worst-case scenario.
b. Best case scenario: Zero infections. Unfortunately, this ideal situation is now difficult to attain. It would require a total economy lock-down which is unsustainable for our landlocked country. We must balance risk management and survival. That is why we implemented measures to reduce the spread.
c. Base case: This means we do not allow it to get worse than it is. Keeping the positive cases below 1,000 at any one time. That way, our health facilities can adequately handle the patients without making it become a health crisis.
4. Our experts have recommended to us a base case. To keep COVID-19 cases in Uganda below 1,000 comes a cost. We cannot manage a pandemic and have our economy fully open as usual. This is a sacrifice we must accept.
5. We know the economy has been affected by the pandemic. Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development together with supporting partners including Bank of Uganda and National Planning Authority in consultation with the private sector, chamber of commerce, investment authority, and all manufacturers, have formed a special national economy task force which is currently finalizing a paper on the road map and the economic stimulus package for consideration by Cabinet. I will update you on this in my next address.
6. Our interventions with the long-distance Track Drivers have demonstrated that with discipline we can continue doing business and reduce the infection rate. Our strategy is now to live with the virus and NOT without it. Using this model, the following changes have been made:
a. All businesses to open, subject to complying with the MOH directives, to issued from time to time. There are no exceptions. Anyone caught flouting the issued guidelines shall be punished according to the law and or regulations. The respective regulatory bodies shall enforce compliance with the MOH COVI19 prevention guidelines. On-going surprise audits shall commence, and you will be issued with the on-spot COVID-19 compliance report. You will pay fines for non-compliance in the bank.
b. All places of worship – Churches, Mosques, etc. shall open subject to strict hygiene, social distance, and mandatory face masks before, during, and after prayer service. All prayer places must have fresh tap water, soap, and sanitizers at the entrance. Everyone must wash their hands before and after the service. The Ministry of Ethics and Integrity shall issue further guidance as well as coordinate compliance monitoring. Any place found not compliant shall be closed until further review, in addition to paying penalty for putting the lives of Ugandans at risk.
c. We plan to open all education institutions and resume all sports activities effective in August 2020. The Ministry of Education and Sports is currently analyzing the necessary measures and impact on the Institutions in terms of new investment if any. By mid-June 2020, a report shall be considered by Cabinet and provide the necessary guidance.
7. The curfew hours have been extended to 10 pm. You are all expected to follow the guidelines which shall be issued by the Ministry of Works and Transport and enforced by the Traffic Police during the day and police officers and army at night. This is for security, and health reasons. Let us all cooperate and defeat this pandemic the way we defeated the bad regimes of the past.
8. Fellow Ugandans remember freedom comes with a huge responsibility. Do not be the weakest link. Law enforcement shall not hesitate to discipline anyone, exposing our country to the pandemic.
9. In line with our constitution, the elections shall go on. The Electoral Commission has shared a road-map. Study it and use the available channels to provide input. The pandemic has affected our timelines but now we are defeating it. I shall continue protecting our constitution and no one should dare derail us especially when it comes to upholding democratic processes and allowing Ugandans a right to vote their leaders of choice.
10. Now I will use the remaining five minutes to take questions from the Press. I will start with this young man from NTV. What is your name? Ask your question…
For God and My Country.
Thank you all.
Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, 2020. All rights reserved.