COVID-19 and the Nakabugu conundrum Series 1 of 2

These are times to worry and look after ourselves, family, work colleagues, and the vulnerable people on the globe. We dedicate this blog to our loved ones.

For us at the Effectiveness lab, a special dedication to our kindred, the Nakabugunites, in Nakabugu village and they are many: Febiano Lutabalo, Hajati Wamwenderaki, Andereya Isota Bukulubuwomya, Hajati Khamila Nsereko, Nsirira in Lufula ndiizi, Lwamaza mu-mbidhi, Anne Inhyensiko, Losila Kilikumwiino, Hanifa, Danyeeli Batabaire and the more extensive clan at that.

It’s fickle, fluid, capricious, unpredictable, “senyiiga omukambwe” [troublesome flu] – yes, It’s COVID-19. It first presented as a rumour in China, then epidemic and finally a global pandemic and its twins’ disorder and fear.

In Uganda and other parts of the world, COVID-19 has been discussed and interrogated on TV, radios, family dining and bedrooms, on the road and anywhere discussion on a subject matter as vexing as COVID-19 can take place.

Yet weeks/months into the pandemic, COVID-19 is still ravaging the world, including on the Master’s turf. In March, COVID-19 arrived in Mother Uganda. And while things appear under control, thanks to the diligent government and minister of health, scientists keep reminding us that it’s just a matter of time before COVID-19 hits Ugandans hard.

At the Effectiveness lab, we know from our forefathers that: when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. But still, we can’t fathom out how a virus, whose patient-zero is in far-flung Wuhan China, ended up in Uganda, and soon if not already, our village, Nakabugu. We are worried about our, not at all sophisticated kindred. While it’s true that in Uganda we need and can’t stay away from Chinese imports, we didn’t ask for this particular import. At least not our Nakabugunites.

Now – when talking crises in Africa, especially South of the Sahara, even with all the well-meaning intervention and support from the do-gooders, our matters are mostly left to God. And while the latter is applicable this time too, there is also reason to worry and go beyond simply dumping stuff in God’s inbox.

We have to help ourselves – why?

Well, with the virulent virus a reality, even in villages like Nakabugu where none of the ‘resident’ citizens has and may ever travel to China, we are right to interrogate COVID-19 and why we should worry about the disease. And our concerns relate to both the aggressiveness of the disease and the need to heed warnings, but even more important, the contextual impracticalities and impossibilities.  Simply put, there are too many mutually conflicting matters in this COVID-19 emergency:

Unlike other viruses, the world has dealt with in the past – the typical COVID-19 trajectory has pressure points, where hundreds amongst the population get admitted and need critical care beds. When the latter happens, even the best healthcare systems in the world are overwhelmed. Now, Nakabugu village, part of Luuka district, has a health Center IV that isn’t precisely effective even in good times. We wonder if it can take the pressure from the typical COVID-19 disease trajectory. Nakabugu’s ‘top-end’ hospital has no ventilators, critical care nurses and the referral hospital in Iganga may not do any better

Let’s leave health systems capacity aside and interrogate public health matters, specifically, the ability to stop human to human transmission. The minimum benchmark to prevent ‘bad’ human to human infection is R1. What does this mean? That the Nakabugu folk with COVID-19 should only infect one other person. Well, is this possible? And look, we wish it indeed were possible – but the truth is, we are also dealing with certain contextual things and the accompanying impracticalities and impossibilities. Indeed, the President was right when he prevented urbanites from rushing to the villages as we would have distorted and transferred the disease to a well-protected (mostly) human eco-system. But we are dealing with a convulsion of public health challenges, long-practised cultures and a killer virus that the world is learning something new about, every day – the latest that the virus has been found alive and well in men’s semen, and only the other day, that loss of smell and taste are now official symptoms

Nakabugunites are social animals that don’t know social boundaries. Touching, laughing with our mouths and eyes wide open is innate – well, perhaps it’s safe on this one, to only speak for our kindred in Nakabugu. Isolating, as elite urbanites do in contemporary-plan houses with self-contained bedrooms, utility rooms, etc. may be hard. Nakabugu houses are utilitarian; built to be slept in and at night and not the other way around. Most of our time is spent outside the house. And when we are outside the house; we physically relate and very close at that. Indeed, Presidential directives on social distancing need to be followed, but also, social habits have diehards that perpetuate them. Convincing Lutabalo, Wamwenderaki, Hanifa to keep the right social distance is a cultural re-orientation job, and it takes time. Also – how do we reign in polygamists in Nakabugu? Are they amongst the more active COVID-19 vectors, as they move from home to home, accomplishing social-duties?

Nakabugunites need to continue putting food and butter on the table [read mbooli (potatoes)]. They have gotten some of the government’s social-protection posho and beans. But the majority have to keep fending for themselves, and this is mostly via manual labour, tilling the land. But in doing the latter – business is continuing as usual, and potentially, the virus may be on the ‘move.’ As long as Nakabugunites are out and about, going about business as usual, we are exposed to COVID-19. Nakabugu isn’t different from what we have witnessed in downtown Kampala. For the sub-sectors that the lockdown has been relaxed, social distancing has been a challenge. Mask wearing is, at times, scanty. Much as we don’t kiss a lot in Nakabugu, especially in public, it’s innately in us to work closely together. So much so that it will take a lot of hard social ‘re-programming’ to remind everyone to social distance. Even as villages boast ample space, there remains danger; human to human infections, even in these vast spaces may happen – purely out of habit/’social-coding’

Yes, the virus is fickle – and even quintessential scientists can’t keep pace with the thing. It’s forever changing, and the knowledge gap is widening and, at best, constant. This virus may be with us in Nakabugu for months and years – and the Corona-science ‘imbeciles’ like us [read lay people] need to help themselves, seek help from other people (do-gooders), and then from God. Anything will do this time!

How should Nakabugunites deal with COVID-19?

See you next week and a very Happy Eid



Categories: Strategy

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7 replies

  1. Worth reading!!! Nakabugu experience with Corona is the same as many other African communities including my community in Bushenge Sector!😄😄

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  2. Apollo, like the Nakabunites, social distancing has been agonizing to me; waving at people from a distance without shaking hands is just not African. Training children not to hug family members so that they develop the habit of not hugging anyone has been a tall order. Nevertheless we have to heed to the health advise What is even most disheartening is that COVID-19 is here to stay, May God help us!

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    • @maryam – good morning…. it’s tough indeed and this COVID19 is quickly de-Africanising us

      Yes – teaching against, and not for contact is taboo …. but taboo that is welcome this time

      God bless

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  3. Life Nakabugu seems to be the norm in the rest of Busoga. Social distancing is a social conundrum- it goes against the communal nature of village life! My fondest memories of visiting grandpa in Buwala-Buzaaya – Luwuka county are filled with endless play with village kids from dusk to dawn. There were no time restrictions on a trip to the well- and how we picked up more friends along the way! Life may never be the same post Covid19. I hope the Nakabugunies stay safe and cheerful!

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    • Dr. Sarah – thanks for reading the blog and comments. Indeed, such was/is life back in the villages and how I wish our kids could get to experience such life and that COVID19 doesn’t destroy whatever is remaining of the same…

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  4. Apollo, I have read your entire article with a lot of scrutiny and care. You have antagonized my attitude towards covid 19! We’re at total risk. It’s a big challenge to all “Nakabugunites” throughout sub Saharan Africa. What is the best way forward?

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  1. COVID-19 and the Nakabugu conundrum Series 2 of 2 – Gabazira's blog

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