So here we are in Uganda, entering the Covid-19 phase of community infections, with fellows dropping dead here and there every other day. But life must go on until it stops for the individual. And one thing Ugandans seem to have learnt is to live their life well, or better at least.
Let us start with the first economic Covid convict – the tourism sector. The general verdict had been that it was curtains for tourism, since the ‘tourists’ were not about to resume coming anytime soon. The assumption was that tourists come from other, rich countries. And then see what has been happening since the lifting of the lockdown started!
Ugandans could not wait to go and see the beauty of their country which they had always ignored, assuming earlier that it was only meant to be enjoyed by visiting foreigners. Owners of game park lodges are now reporting full bookings on weekends by locals. Their next challenge now is to convince the Ugandan that you can also tour your country on weekdays. In our culture the weekdays are for hassling, January to December, even if you are on leave from official duty.
Then the foods. People have been eating so well since the lockdown started in March! Could it be they thought they were going to die so they may as well ‘eat their things’? The average Ugandan emerged from the lockdown looking better fed, not emaciated. How do you explain that? It seems we were being true to our culture of reserving the best dish for the visitors. Now that the visitors were not about to come, we started to eat the best of our farm produce for ourselves. We used to study about those countries that consume their best produce and export the lower grade. We are getting there now, whether we export or not, we are consuming our best.
And when you go today to the scenic, lakeside town of Entebbe 40km south of Kampala capital city, you might spot some luxury, white buses gliding on the roads, completely soundless. The locally designed buses built at the military industrial complex have already been deployed by yes, the Civil Aviation Authority, plying between the airport and the city. So Ugandans will soon not have to first leave the country to experience the super modern ambiance of the clean land transport modes of the 21 century, made in Uganda and being consumed by Ugandans.
Just before the lockdown, a European Union parliament delegation savored the experience of the country’s then newly released electric buses in Kampala. Now the Ugandans are claiming their product for their own use.
But now probably the most curious outcome of the lockdown has just been noticed in the national financial habits.
At least the public has just learnt of it, yet they have been doing it individually, not knowing that others were doing it at the same time.
The saving culture is shooting up!
The central bank released its observation at the beginning of August – that since the start of the lockdown, the country has seen an unprecedented rise in savings.
What savings? Long term deposits. And this by people who were publicly crying that they were not earning due to lockdown. Yet they discovered the need to save more! You saved more not knowing that your neighbour was also saving more!
In other words, Ugandans are not just raising the quality of what they eat; they are not only discovering tourism; they are not only starting to ride in 100 per cent electric vehicles; they are also taking their financial habits to a higher level!
We are a nation re-discovering the classic economic stages of development that say savings need to rise to a certain level to support investments before you can realise the take-off. The world’s biggest economy, America’s, is built on savings – other people’s savings that the US system borrows. Let us hope Uganda’s savings will build Uganda and reduce the addiction to foreign loans.
On the other hand – note the hesitation to call it the downside – the people are also drinking more beer. Yes, the revenue authority is upbeat over the tax collection from beer sales. And this is at a time when the bars remain firmly closed! Bars and clubs are closed, but the brewers are moving bigger volumes!
Drink is being consumed in larger amounts in homes. Who knows whether this is a good or bad thing? More revenue for service delivery, even if some of it will be for treating a few damaged livers.
We continue making lemonade from the Corona lemon.