Since the start of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic spread all over the world, countries including Uganda have adopted various measures to contain the spread of the virus and avert a humanitarian catastrophe. These include restricted international travel, closure of schools, imposing nationwide lockdowns, suspension of public, social and religious gatherings among others. The lockdown had impact on the various facets of the households, and firms as discussed below.
Evidence from Uganda indicate that violence against women and girls has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sexual violence, teenage pregnancy and early marriages have increased. In addition, pandemics exacerbate the existing inequalities for women and girls, informal business operators and discrimination of other marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and those in extreme poverty.
Ugandans working in the informal sector, including Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) have been the mostly affected. A substantial number of enterprise/ firms downsized to reduce operating expenses while others closed entirely. Consequently, there was a significant rise in unemployment. Moreover, most layoffs were done without terminal benefits. This largely because 85 percent of the paid workers are employed in the informal sector where they have no formal contracts and have no social security.
Even when several technological innovations skyrocketed during the pandemic, leading some businesses to adopt working remotely, this favored a small percent of the working population in the formal sector. Most of the informal sector employees such as waiters, security guards, drivers, porters, and machine operators among others were unable to work from home. Moreover, the stimulus package to support households and firms had a clear urban and formal economy bias.
Most recently, the government embarked on lifting of the lockdown restrictions in a phased manner. However, some employees who were furloughed during the pandemic may not recalled back to work by the same employer due to the prevailing slow business performance. It is also not easy for them to get new jobs elsewhere. Further, Ugandans who derive their livelihood from the night economy remain unemployed due to curfew restrictions.
Overall, the pandemic has resulted into increased inequality due to loss of incomes and reallocation of jobs and sector. Teachers have turned into chapatti makers, porters on construction sites, farmers, etc. Schools have turned into lodges and rental areas for accommodation etc. The sectorial reallocation of jobs may have a significant impact on human resource development of the country in years to come.
What is the way forward?
Extend social protection to the informal sector workers as provided for in the National Social Protection Policy (2015). This arrangement would mitigate livelihood risks and shocks such as loss of employment, work-related disability and ill health conditions that may compromise a citizen’s right to earn. This would ultimately support inclusiveness and equitable growth.
The government should lift curfew restrictions and open the night economy for those who earn a living during night hours.
Design a psychosocial support programme to help Ugandans that have suffered mental breakdown during this period, especially teachers of private schools who have not earned from their profession for two years. The pandemic came with its socio-psychological effects that has affected the families of private school teachers and may leave lasting scars. Support to private school teachers may help in averting shortages of professionals’ teachers going forward.
Uganda should pick lessons and experiences from other comparator countries that are getting out of the pandemic. For instance, most East African countries have lessened the Covid-19 restrictions such as schools closure, night curfews and moratorium on non-essential economic activities.