The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a global health and economic crisis and a test to the routine of our basic daily life: commuting to the office, face-to-face meetings, shopping for necessities and attending family or social gatherings. Questions also linger on how the aftermath of the pandemic will be for workers, businesses and the modern economy as we know it.

As the number of infections in Uganda reached over 40 towards the end of March 2020, H.E. President Yoweri Museveni ordered a total country shutdown: no schooling, no mass weddings or burials, shutdown of public transport, closure of borders and businesses – except pharmacies and food sellers – and restrictions on internal movements. This was done in a bid to flatten the disease’s progression curve. By April 10, Uganda had recorded 53 cases.

The shutdown, however, does not mean that people will not need services. No! There are essential services that the state, citizens and residents cannot do without such as water, electricity, food, medicine, security, maintenance and tax collection. With “social distancing” announced as one of the measures to curb the spread of the virus, some employees have resorted to working from home. However, this is not applicable for all employment categories. 

Embracing digital platforms

Second UNDP Uganda Country Office virtual meeting using the Zoom Collaboration Tool ©UNDP Uganda/Hadijjah Nabbale

 

In Uganda, the UNDP country office is using ICT technologies to empower partners to solve development challenges. UNDP availed the Government of Uganda with Zoom licenses, laptops and HD video conferencing cameras to enable the government maintain its core functions operational and to plan, coordinate, communicate and finance its COVID-19 response. This was done in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister, the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and National Guidance. Zoom facilitates virtual video and audio-conferencing which eliminates the need for face-to-face meetings, discouraged as part of the measures to limit the spread of the disease. Currently, over 100 government ministries, departments and agencies are already connected to Zoom, thanks to UNDP offer. 

Impact on ordinary citizens

So, how will COVID-19 impact the ordinary citizen? It is clear that it will affect the informal sector which employs almost 70% of the population.

There are also fears about possible increase in crime given that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. The closure of schools, places of worship, entertainment centers, sporting events and public transport has rendered many wage and commission earners jobless and vulnerable.

Take the example of Mr. Ronald Kabuubi, a roadside snack dealer from Nankonge, a peri-urban Kampala suburb. His business of selling a delicacy (roll of omelet and chapatti locally lavishly referred to as a rolex) was booming. He was stationed near a recreation center and revelers would find it convenient to pick the snack. The closure of the recreation center and restrictions on movements meant his customers were cut off. 

Mr. Ronald Kabuubi preparing the rolex delicacy popular among urban dwellers of Kampala. ©UNDP Uganda/Hadijjah Nabbale

 

Mr. Kabuubi is one of many Ugandans whose livelihoods depend on daily income, now wallowing in uncertainty in their homes.

To salvage the plight of citizens like Mr. Kabuubi, a government recovery programme targeting the most vulnerable would be in order. So, how does government convene when most public officials have been asked to, “Stay Home”? The answer is in virtual meetings or variously referred to as teleworking. This is what makes UNDP’s offer to the Government of Uganda’s response to COVID-19 transformational and important to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

Uganda’s development partners too are teleworking. They need to continue mobilizing resources, produce knowledge products and innovative ways that will help Uganda recover from the crisis and achieve her development aspirations of a peaceful, prosperous and inclusive society that leaves no one behind.

But there are also key services like humanitarian assistance that cannot wait. Uganda is host to over 1.2 million refugees! The virtual interface of development partners, government officials, local government leaders and staff of UN agencies and humanitarian agencies, becomes a continuous necessity.

The broad offer

Provision of Zoom digital services is not the only offer UNDP is making in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNDP is also supporting the reactivation of National Emergency, Coordination and Operations Centre (NECOC) to provide a robust whole-of-government platform to anchor government’s preparedness to crises and shocks. UNDP will also assess the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and support recovery interventions.

UNDP has invested in building a next-generation network of innovation and digital solutions across its global team – a critical institutional asset in responding to this complex health crisis. The UNDP Accelerator Lab network in Uganda is also sensing strong and weak signals of changes and sourcing local solutions to the crisis.

As the UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Elsie Attafuah affirmed, “UNDP’s support will improve coordination of COVID-19 response and recovery, strengthen service delivery in this critical time and drastically reduce physical contact to limit the spread of the disease. As always, UNDP is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for everyone, everywhere.”

Trust your thought leader and development partner of choice to continue assisting Uganda in overcoming the setbacks brought on by this pandemic.

 

By Hadijah Nabbale

Head of Solutions Mapping – Accelerator Lab Uganda

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