Lessons from the Covid-19 lockdown continue. You need to open your eyes keenly to see them. In Kampala, we hope our policy makers’ eyes are open.
Take the horrible traffic jam that we sweat in since cars were allowed back on the road! It is worse than it was pre-Covid 19. But the explanation is simple: motorists now have only half the time to drive than they had before — thanks to the dusk-to-dawn curfew.
If you are found driving after 7pm, you face the offence of “attempted murder by attempting to spread the coronavirus” — as we have been repeatedly warned. So late afternoon the roads are chocked with impatient drivers.
What this means is that the expensive infrastructure called roads is out of use for half the time. And we are getting used to it. Which other infrastructure is lying unutilised because of the new normal?
Obviously, bars are fully closed, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Brewers and distillers are working as usual, and their consumers are probably consuming more since drink bought from shops and is cheaper than that served in bars.
Kampala is a boozy city with probably one (closed) bar to every 10 houses in the suburbs. What if every bar is converted into an apartment or two? That would increase housing stock by 10 per cent.
What about offices? This one is a double gain but let us first deal with the physical office space.
Most public servants have not been to office for three months now, and there has been no crisis. What if that space is converted (alongside the bars) into apartments as well? Give a 10-year tax holiday for those who convert such premises into accommodation and if the housing deficit isn’t forgotten.
But the changing workplace is even more interesting. So people did not all have go to office to work after all! We could even be doing better than some developed countries.
Uganda’s National Social Security Fund, for example, has been operating at full capacity with its staff working from home. Ageing claimants have been paid, new members have been recruited into NSSF numbers and the fund — Uganda’s biggest cash collection — has been growing as if there was no Covid-19.
So, must all workers leave home to “go to work”? Can’t they just get up, work and clock out and go to bed? Imagine how decongested our roads would be if half the workers didn’t have to go to office. Imagine how clean the air would become — hence our health!
In this regard, since the government or city management is apparently still too timid to allocate road lanes to different modes of locomotion, the curfew provides an option, a time based division!
Simply announce that daytime is for cars and night time for buses or vice versa. Diehard environmentalists would say buses for the day since they carry more people, and small cars at night. But the security-conscious would say buses for the night for even if wrongdoers boarded a bus to go and do criminal acts, they would have no getaway vehicle.
The more enlightened would say divide the day between fuel combustion and electric vehicles. Allocating say, the night to electric vehicles, would be an incentive to fight pollution. But since the electric vehicles are likely to be fewer over the next decade, they should be allowed to move both day and night while fuel cars are limited to day.
But we cannot close this topic without looking at the sector that touches everyone — the schools. Already, expert studies have found that too many years are allocated to the school system. Then there are the four months of vacation every year.
The existing number of schools should be made to operate in two shifts. Why does a child spend a whole day at school, instead of half the day as if they are conducting research to transfer the world’s entire population to Mars?
The better part of half-day schooling is that it would allow for social distancing. But secondly, it would remove meals from the school arrangement, with the morning session leaving school before lunch while the afternoon group comes after lunch.
After Covid-19 is tamed, we would just use the same facilities to enrol more numbers in double session rather than building more classrooms.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email: [email protected]