As of the afternoon of Wednesday 25th March 2020 the Ugandan Ministry of Health addressed the nation regarding the status quo of Covid 19. The number of confirmed cases had arisen to 14. This is a fast rate compared to the previous rate of 9 cases which had been imported before the National Airport had been shut down by the President. Among the new cases includes someone who did not have any travel history apart from being a salt trader who constantly had contact with the Uganda Sudan boarder. Compared to the other countries hit by the corona virus. Uganda seems to be a country that has been less hit but this could change since we have close to an approximation of 60000 Ugandans in danger as these could have been in contact with the confirmed cases according to the ministry’s report on 25th of March 2020. This is simply because some of these cases had been let loose in the public as they had shown no signs and symptoms of the virus on arrival in the country.
However notwithstanding, we have to acknowledge one fact- that as more cases come up, the country might get under lockdown just like any other countries have done in the wake of this epidemic. This will follow after the immediate closure on bars learning institutions, the Airport and other border posts, plus the ban on all gatherings and a hint on ban of transport. What does this mean for our little country whose largest population works on survival mode. Uganda is and is ranked in the First position in entrepreneurship but data from Uganda Bureau of Statistics shows that the GDP is still on $28.50 billion still far away from middle income status and so we survive on a functioning private sector.
The fact that some of the people do not have any sort of savings to stock enough that can take them through the time when the lockdown comes should it come up.
The president in his addresses has hinted on the idea of banning public transport and inter town transport in the country should this become an option. Unlike the other economies such as China where E- Commerce and Online retail has become the order of the day with delivery done with these online food and grocery retailers.
Companies like JD.com increased grocery sales online up to 15000 tons between late January and early February due to the epidemic. Corona or Covid 19 has forced most economies to become contact less economies, will Uganda survive as one should the need arise now that the cases have increased. Well we have known a few online retail shops in Uganda that seem to fit the idea such as Jumia and Safeboda recently. But need I say these online retailers work efficiently in the city of Kampala? Then what will become of the other towns in the upcountry. Well can Ugandan retailers and supermarket owners shift to other means of retailing these products or as they get emptied, they will shut down as has been the case in Kenya?
In an economy like the one in Uganda, mobile retail may be an answer to such a dilemma. Not much of the population can use online retail lest people may opt to face the virus than hunger. But then how would this mobile retail work, certainly we may have an increase in prices since there is now an incur of fuel costs by most of these retailers as they move from place to place as they ply the trade. But with the forces of demand and supply in place we have managed to have the same price of sugar in Kabale district in the south western region similar to that in Arua in the northern region of the country.
The president in an address to the nation on the Monday 20th of march 2020 hinted on cancellation of trading licenses of retailers who hike prices of these products calling them crooks. No doubt that there would be severe litigation once this happens but, in any case, it is possible should it be an option. However, if the mobile retail is much hindered due to costs then its time for the government to issue incentives to the biggest retailers in the country to carry out this mobile retail, these could include free licenses and tax exemption for those that may manufacture and at the same time retail. There is no doubt that the first class of citizens may afford online retail incase it is an option but much of the next classes of citizens cannot afford as much and so mobile retail may be the answer. Mobile retail can be done by having vehicles lift this merchandise and sell in retail to different homes that will afford since it is much easier.
The state may have not much it invests in the economy of most Ugandans but in critical times like these the population does look to the government for help as they have done in the past notably during the Ebola outbreak and the HIV days. I think that mobile retail would be an answer to most Ugandans should we reach a lock down situation.