Lira—24 May 2020: Since the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Uganda on 18 March 2020, the Museveni administration has promulgated a series of measures aimed at containing the pandemic.
Lockdown [extended] and the declaration of a 7pm to 6:30am curfew were touted as some effective methodologies of President Museveni that has seen the country exhibit a flat curve of the coronavirus disease compared to her East African counterparts.
But without a doubt, some countries had already endorsed some of these measures adopted by the Ugandan government. For Uganda, it has come with a pinch of salt for the citizens.
Since 1986 when the NRM government came into power, this country always referred to as the “Pearl of Africa” has exhibited political tranquillity and it has been peaceful, hence the citizens both in urban and rural areas have lived a lazier kind of life where coffee shops, bars, restaurants and public amenities open from dawn to dusk.
Ugandans have experienced this exorbitant way of life for over two decades now, and the lockdown and curfew is completely a new experience.
But if the normal or none handicapped Ugandans are grappling with such challenges or are rather finding it hard to cope up with the measures in place to combat COVID-19, have you ever pondered about People with Disabilities (PWDs) and what curfew or lockdown means for their livelihoods?
TND News’ Frank Oyugi has interacted with both male and female PWDs in Lira regarding challenges that they are faced with as the country continues to battle this pandemic.
Rehema Apio, 45, has sight complications and traces her way (walks) with the help of a white cane, she is a resident of Kirombe, Adyel division in Lira Municipality.
How has the lockdown, and the curfew imposed by government because of the coronavirus pandemic affected you? I asked this question to Rehema.
“I have had sight problems for a long time and I have been making both ends meet through well-wishers,” Rehema responds.
According to Rehema, there has been a significant change in the attitude of local philanthropists who used to support her.
“I used to have people around who would give me money for sugar, salt etc., but now they are equally affected, most of them have run out of businesses because of the lockdown and I understand when they tell me they can’t support me anymore,” she narrates.
This elderly and visionary impaired woman was among the over 35 Muslim women with disabilities who on Thursday received shillings 30,000 each from the Pakistani Association of Lira (PAU), through its media coordinator, Agha Alsam and President Ateeq Nawaz.
If not for a mind hearted gentleman who carried her on a motorcycle despite the Presidential directive against carrying people, Rehema would have tracked for over 3kms from Kirombe to Jamia Mosque on Obote Avenue to receive her donation.
“I reached here because someone saw my condition and offered me a lift, this cash donation will help me buy some posho and beans which can run me for a few days,” said Rehema.
Rehema is not alone, there are women and men around Lango region and a majority in Lira town who are physically handicapped and continue to face challenges day in day out in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but does anyone seem to care?
TND News is privy to information that much as the district task force has received all sorts of donations including food items from philanthropists across all walks of life, only a few people with disabilities have been considered, and some either sleep on hungry stomachs or struggle to afford one meal a day.
Zainabu Apio is another of such women. She too was privileged to have received monetary support from the generous Pakistani Community and soon shared some of her ordeals because of the pandemic.
Zanibu live in Ngetta sub-county, about 3kms from central business district of Lira. She often come to town to buy one or two items that are essential in her life. She, too, is blind.
She narrates how difficult it is for her to obey some measures brought about by COVID-19.
“It is now a requirement that one should wash hands both in private and public places. But due to my sight problems, I often miss this washing points,” She tells Frank Oyugi.
“One time I went to a shop, and I didn’t see a hand washing facility, and therefore proceeded without washing my hands to the chagrin of other customers who descended on me and nearly beat me until someone among them shouted that she is a blind person,” Zainabu recalls.
Curfew itself is a lot of hell for people like her, who, let alone failing to own a watch, can’t also depend on it to determine curfew time.
So how do you ensure that you arrived home safely before the 7pm curfew time imposed by government? Asks TND News’ Frank Oyugi.
In her response, Apio says she relies on the local Fm stations in Lira, some of which broadcasts their news at a quarter to seven, and this is when she gets going to her house.
She also reveals how she once found herself late past curfew time but reveals that security operatives on patrol pardoned her because they understood her conditions.
There have also been reports, some undocumented of some people with disabilities who have been tortured by security for violation of the curfew time.
In April, there was a report of a dumb and deaf boy, Innocent Opio, who was allegedly beaten by security officers after they found him wandering beyond 7pm in Kakoge, a Lira suburb.
This drew the concern of leaders of PWDs, including Mathew Omara. Mr Omara is a male councillor of PWDs in Lira district and also a representative in the National Union for Persons with Disabilities.
Omara decried the lack of a special program to sensitize PWDs on how to stay safe during COVID-19 and also on the new government regulations aimed at containing the pandemic.
He also urged security operatives to respect the rights of PWDs who may not be aware of the government measures such as lockdown and curfew, among others.
Beatrice Akello is an activist for PWDs and she has lived with a mobility compartment for years now and moves with the help of a wheelchair.
According to Akello, authorities did not take into consideration the plights of PWDs before declaring their different measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
For instance, she strongly argues that blind people cannot read the ordinary writings and any new measures communicated by government should have come in the format of “packing brawlers”, adding that it would be easy for them to read and understand.
She further says that this was also not likely to affect education of children with disabilities who are equally learning from home since President Museveni closed all schools in March.
The government has since chosen a measure where teachers are delivering lessons on TV and Radio stations. This, according to Beatrice Akello, doesn’t favour those with sight problems and the deaf ones, who have equal rights to learn.
Education Ministry is yet to come out with any measures to address this, although government has announced that candidates and finalists in tertiary institutions and Universities could go back to school in two weeks’ time.
A brief findings by TND News also revealed that several PWDs have been put out of business.
For instance, some of them are cobblers in Lira town, while some worked in wood and metal shops but were sent home.
President Museveni’s initial measures have left only food markets open not until when he eased down on them in his most recent address, announcing how the country would bit-by-bit open up.