Ugandan Traders Strive to Stay Afloat Amid New Covid Lockdown

Fruit vendors along Nakasero market street in Kampala, Uganda (file image)

Kampala — Uganda's reinstatement of a coronavirus lockdown through the end of July is squeezing the ability of many people to earn a living. Street market traders are forced to bicycle, walk long distances or just sleep in the market.

With coronavirus infections soaring and hospitals overwhelmed, Uganda has reimposed a lockdown on transportation through the end of July.

Buses have been shut down, driving requires a permit, and only essential workers are allowed into Kampala.

While the aim is to save lives, making a living is once again a struggle for traders like Saudha Namaga, one of many forced to sleep in the market.

She wants Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to ease the restrictions.

"We are selling rotten produce. All the bananas, as you can see, we don't have buyers," said Namaga. "So, we are asking the president, and those who talk to him should tell him, to relax the orders. Those who are able to walk to town should be allowed to come and buy."

The situation is even worse for shops not selling food, which Ugandan authorities ordered closed.

Ugandan police are being deployed to enforce the commands.

Area chairman Bashir Muwonge says without help, many shops won't survive.

"If you keep imposing a lockdown, what do you think is going to happen? This means the country's economy is falling because there is no work being done," said Muwonge. "We have been appealing to the president to help by suspending rent payments. The economy is crashing because people can no longer maintain their businesses, even when you reopen."

Ugandans living in the countryside are forced to walk for hours to get to town.

Lydia Nambogo walked more than five kilometers to withdraw money from her savings to feed her family, but the bank office was closed.

"I've been selling takeaway food, and I've been earning little money to take care of my family," said Nambogo. "But we've been locked down, and we don't know what's coming next. The government isn't going to give us food again. They should at least give us some of our little savings."

With Uganda's first lockdown in March 2020, the government gave flour and beans to the urban poor, which many hope will be repeated.

Ugandan Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja says they are going to identify the vulnerable.

"We are going to use a simple, some simple means of delivering support to you," said Nabbanja. "And the vulnerable people are known."

Meanwhile, many Ugandans can only wait for this latest wave of COVID-19 infections to recede while doing their best to keep their heads above water.

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