Uganda: Who Conned Museveni That Locked-Down Learners Are At Home Avoiding Covid?

15 September 2021

For complaining that our teens have been impregnated for sport under lockdown, we were told, "shut the f**k up you poor parents."

To torment us further, they challenged rhetorically, "who said schools were there to take parenting responsibilities away from you lazy fellas?" They then hit us with some sleek comforting lines, "it could have been worse, your girls are just pregnant, not dead." Game down.

Government spokesperson have continued chanting these lines like they were a cure for Covid-19 themselves. Thus, parents with pregnant teens or teen-dads have themselves to blame, but should find solace in the fact that Covid-19 only left their children pregnant.

But that our girls only got impregnated by teens from near and distant neighbourhoods, or complete strangers, but never contracted Covid-19 from these escapades [with strangers and neighbours] beats all understanding. Were they not locked down to reduce the possibility of exchanging saliva and other fluids?

How did the impregnating fluids meet their hosts - and what other fluids got exchanged in the process - but not Covid-19 droplets!

Let's start this story from the beginning: the assumption behind closing schools and having learners (infants, teens, and young adults) locked at home was that homes would limit their movement and thus reduce chances of infection and spread. The logic then follows that, children would strictly stay in their parents' homes - on the strict supervision of us parents - avoid circulating in the streets and markets squares where they would contract Covid-19.

I should admit that as parents, we failed on our call towards lockdown enforcement in our homes. But our so-called failure has to be understood as a product of the absolute ignorance of the designers of the policy itself. [Or were they simply copy-pasting from Europe and North America?]

See, since these policy copycats live in isolated and gated neighbourhoods in Kololo, Bugolobi, Ntinda and Najjeera (upscale slums, to be fair), they imagined a grand Disney world where children in the entire country afforded the same things these copycats enabled their children behind their highwalls.

Not just food and water, but also play things such portable swimming pools, swings, video games, Wi-Fi, Netflix, etcetera - plus private schooling. The level of being out-of-touch is mindboggling.

I live in Kazo-Angola; one goes off the Nabweru road in Bwaise at Eden Service Park, Chez Johnson Inn, turns right after Muganzirwaza, and then left after Kazo Church of Uganda. There are two more turns before reaching my two-roomed apartment, but no major features for clear description. There are no street names nor plot numbers. Inside our compound - one of the fanciest in this area - there are about 20 small apartments.

About 40 adult low-income Ugandans live in this compound. Almost all the men leave every single day - lockdown or no lockdown - and return in the evening. No one wears a mask inside this compound except as we exit. We know almost each other and constantly 'masklessly' meet up and share light moments.

We share a single water-collection point - a big underground tank from our generous landlord who harvested all rainwater off his houses. People from outside the compound are free to come and pick the water. Oftentimes, there are crowds around the water collection point.

Once in a while, our unmarried neighbours have weekend-only visitors who could be found at the water collection point, too. There are two ladies who wash clothes for the entire compound, and are constantly moving from house to house.

Over 30 children live inside this clearly congested wall, and play together. Children from outside the compound are free to enter and join in. Ours are also free to go out in the streets and nearby play areas. Before the 21-day lockdown was eased,

I often found the more mature lads - residents of our compound - on evening walks in places as far as Bwaise, Kalerwe or Kanyanya. This is a radius of about three to five kilometres from the compound. Remember, the above is the life of the more affluent residents of Kazo-Angola.

I have seen our poorer neighbours sharing bathrooms, latrines, pay-as-you-pick water collection points, etc. All day, our garbage-filled water-washed streets are criss-crossed by folks going about their businesses. At one end, you find a famished soul pushing a charcoal-laden bicycle, and another, a lady frying cassava for sale just outside her rental.

Once in a while, you could spot a bleached mask covering their mouths, or strapped around their chins or necks. But look, these exploits are not rebellious or oblivious of Museveni's Covid-19 control protocols, but this is our life - our forgotten and wretched lives. The difference between one's home and workstation is just the door.

When Bwana Museveni eased his recent 42-day lockdown, the lives of our locked-down children even took a more dramatic turn. If they did not join their parents in markets, the more mature ones, overwhelmed by uncertainty, are out trying to find work.

Some of us "survivalist parents" have found makeshift Shs 5,000 a-day private schools in the vicinity where we smuggle our children to keep them in the system.

It is a stupid, embarrassing jungle life, my friend!

What I describe above is reproduced - with precision or worse precarity - throughout the most 'Museveni-hated' districts of Kampala, Mukono, Wakiso, Mpigi and several other major towns. Beyond boarding schools, we have been told, students in day-schools, who formed the majority of Uganda's learners, would be exposed to Covid-19 as they made their journeys through market-squares to and from school.

In truth, these students have never left those streets and market squares. Not sure what is worse: the ignorance of policy copy-cats or that our God-blessed power couple in charge of country and education, listened and continues to follow this wisdom.

The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.

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