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COVID-19 DISILLUSIONMENT! Why traders chose strike to force arcades reopening

By Richard Kintu

Traders in hundreds of city arcades will have to hold on a little bit longer in their quest to resume work. This follows a pronouncement by Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Ann Kyambadde that the actual resumption of work is hinged on a yet-to-be clearance from President Yoweri Museveni.

The development comes after Government on Tuesday moved to implement the opening of Kampala city arcades following protracted skirmishes between the police and protesting traders, egged on by their umbrella body, the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA).

In a message issued Monday under the title EKIMALA KIMALA/ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, Kacita had called upon the traders to forcefully open their premises in protest against the continued lockdown of arcades that is part of the Covid-19 prevention guidelines issued by government in March.

Resultantly, by Tuesday morning police had heavily deployed at various city arcades in the city’s central business district to thwart the traders’ intentions.

However, the traders would later get a sigh of relief when government officials sitting at the Office of the Prime Minister, finally resolved to implement the phased reopening mooted earlier.

Consequently, a circular issued after the meeting, indicated that over 80 arcades in Kampala City had been inspected by the Covid-19 task force as well as government health authorities.

The findings presented showed that 48 arcades had been okayed to be opened for business on Friday while the remaining were found wanting in terms of implementation of set guidelines. These were then advised to work on the conditions so that they can get the node to resume operations.

Be that as it may, government commitment to re-open the arcades will come as a big boost to KACITA and the entire country. Notably, it comes a week after the traders’ body issued a five-day ultimatum for the re-opening of the arcades that were closed four months ago due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the ultimatum, Evariste Kayondo, the chairperson KACITA, said they resorted to the use of forceful means after government reneged on its promise to re-open arcades.

In the expose’ below, The Second Opinion delves into the untold reasons that forced KACITA to resort to forceful means of having the arcades reopened.

‘National disillusionment’

We have learnt from exclusive corridors that the apparent ‘national disillusionment’ surrounding the way government (partially) handled the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the reasons that forced the traders to grab matters by the neck and fight for their survival.

It is worth noting that the moment government announced the dawn of the corona virus disease with patient-zero in the country, there was an instant fear that gripped the entire country. Very soon, government struck a deal with the citizenry in which mutual help would be offered to either side so as to fight the new enemy. While announcing his ‘war’ against the pandemic, President Museveni urged the public to follow guidelines set by government and these included accepting to remain in a national lockdown. This was on top of keeping a keen eye on neighbours that acted in a manner that would abet the spread of the epidemic.

In striking this deal, Jajja Mwami promised to cater for Ugandans’ welfare by providing food to the vulnerable poor (around the city) while at the same time promising to evacuate and treat all those that were unfortunate to contract the disease.

To show their loyalty and willingness to stick to the guidelines, Ugandans went into self-quarantine and none protested when told to fetch their children from schools. While in self-quarantine at their homes, they became so vigilant that reports of attacks on people suspected to be hiding with Covid-19 in the communities became rife. The curfew was adhered to while many bought bicycles to embrace the bicycle and foot transport mantra that had been announced to be the new normal. Ugandans would soon be rewarded for this obedience when government quickly rolled out the distribution of food to the vulnerable poor. Although these were initially thought to be geographically concentrated in the slum-infested areas of Kampala and Wakiso districts, experience now shows that this pool is actually bigger. It now involves bodaboda cyclists, bartenders, salon operators and lately all Ugandans that are outside what constituted the essential workers’ category that worked during the lockdown.

Incidentally, it is now this latter broader categorization that constitutes even the arcade traders whose businesses have been decimated by accumulated rent arrears and stock that has been damaged by four months of what is proving an endless lockdown.

A closer insight into the workings of arcade traders reveals that unlike malls where each shop is owned by a single trader, arcade traders operate a poor man’s business model that’s heavenly dependent on breaking the bulk of the rent burden. To achieve this, one trader rents a shop (for instance at shs3m) then sub rents it to about ten people who then fill it with relatively smaller individual stock and pay for the rental space at Shs300,000 each.

This explains why government, cognizant of the operations of arcades, opened malls and left the former still closed.

The challenge however, is that the events that have unfolded since the onset of the lockdown seem to have disillusioned many Ugandans. Not surprisingly therefore, a survey of the grassroots population shows that the Covid-19 lockdown has seriously affected the ‘muntu wa wansi’.

Corruption

Firstly, the small scale traders among which category arcade owners fall have since exhausted the savings they went with as buffer funds for the lockdown. That left many without option but to eat into their capital, most of which is now finished. This has thus created panic and anxiety among this lot. They thus feel only lifting the lockdown ‘as soon as yesterday’ is the only remedy. This is upon realization that with everything almost gone, they will not be in position to take back their children to school once the educational institutions are reopened.

Apart from the disillusionment about what the future holds, the rampant cases of corruption that have manifested during the current lockdown haven’t helped matters for the common man. The first of such cases emerged from Parliament when the citizenry learnt that the legislators had nipped about Shs10bn from a Covid-19 fund which saw every MP gifted with Shs20m. This caused so much uproar until the money was returned to the national coffers by several MPs.

The general public would be incensed more when it emerged that some officials of OPM officials had been arrested for inflating the cost of Covid-19 relief food and swindling related items.

This made the ‘common man’ start claiming that Covid-19 has polarized the country by creating a class of the privileged few that must eat/get rich as the underprivileged suffer and stay locked down to further the interest of the ‘eating group’.

The said polarization has created so much anger to both the seemingly privileged and those thought to be advising the President to extend the lockdown.

Unfortunately, it is now emerging that many anti-government functionaries are exploiting the pain of the common man to entrench fallacies and falsehoods that are inciting the population into disobedience against the covid-19 lockdown.   

Among the common fallacies is the fact that the continued lockdown of bodaboda is hinged on the fact that the trade is filled by youths who are the major supporters of Bobi Wine. Secondly, there had been a persistent falsehood that the LDU brutality was a state tactic to scare the population into possible stubbornness ahead of the 2021 electoral processes.

Fortunately, the President has since demystified the presumption by withdrawing the errant force from the streets even before the onset of the campaigns. The hurdle now is to assure the population that despite errors of omission by NRM politicians like health minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng that are breaching the Covid-19 prevention guidelines, there is a real threat that warrants the continuation of the lockdown.

Without doubt, it is the falsehoods and disillusionment as discussed above that led to the ‘if we die we die’ sloganeering which the President recently bemoaned in one his Covid addresses.

It is also the same that made bodaboda cyclists resort to attacks on government vehicles, and still the same that forced arcade traders to protest.

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