COVID-19 – A Trigger for Policy Implementation, Economic and Socio-Cultural Behaviour Change in Uganda

By Antony Tebitendwa | Jul 10, 2020

Uganda started implementing lockdown measures on March 20, 2020 and fully implemented a lockdown on March 30, 2020. It was at this point that all Ugandans started feeling the impact of this pandemic. Following the lockdown, there was an urgent demand food and other life necessities.

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The outbreak of the Corona-virus disease (COVID-19) was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) March 14, 2020. The first case in the continent of Africa was reported on February 14, since then, the disease spread to neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Southern Sudan. Uganda reported its first case on March 21, 2020, and by March 30, the cases had risen to 33 and as of June 9, 2020, the number of cases was 657. It is important to note that this pandemic caught many countries unaware and unprepared and the eventual worldwide lockdown was so sudden that no one could imagine its devastating effects. In fact, in Uganda, where disaster preparedness policies were unimplemented, this has called for a proper policy implementation and new policy/​measures have been devised to prevent the disease and also to help people overcome the adverse effects caused by the pandemic. Uganda started implementing lockdown measures on March 20, 2020 and fully implemented a lockdown on March 30, 2020. It was at this point that all Ugandans started feeling the impact of this pandemic. Following the lockdown, there was an urgent demand food and other life necessities. In order to deal with the impact of the pandemic, the Government of Uganda has devised new policies in many areas of peoples’ lives that support the existing ones.


Need for food policy implementation

The Constitution of Uganda provides a good number of policies intended for the well-being of people while protecting their individual rights. Article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) both provide for the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food. Uganda endorsed the ICESCR in 1987 and recognizes the importance of food and nutrition in the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

In 2003, Uganda Food and Nutrition Policy (UFNP) was formulated to promote food security and adequate nutrition for the population. The main focus of UNFP were two: i) to ensure food supply and accessibility with the intention of having an adequate supply of, and access to, quality food at all times for human consumption; ii) to ensure food storage, marketing and distribution, in order to promote the availability of and access to, affordable, safe, and nutritious foods. In the same spirit, the constitution founded a National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management (NPDM) in 2010 to reduce people’s vulnerability during disasters.

It should be noted that, although the 1995 constitution proclaims the right to adequate food through UNFP and the need to establish a contingency fund and commission responsible for disaster preparedness, these remained in writing. In this current COVID-19 outbreak, the National Food Reserve was found to have a limited capacity, which could not provide Ugandans with enough food to sustain them during the lockdown.

In order to respond to the people’s need for food and other basic necessities, the government created a COVID Task Force and called upon individuals, organizations, and institution to donate to it, which was positively accepted by the public. Indeed, most of the food that is given to the affected people is contributed through individual and organizational donations to the Uganda COVID Task Force. Therefore, the policy on establishing food reserves at districts and national levels has been revived to avoid similar tragic consequences in the future.

Socio-economic impact

It is time for Ugandans to stop working for their daily bread and start saving for the future. Many Ugandans whether salaried or self-employed, do not have a habit of saving. They expense all their daily, weekly, or monthly earnings without considering an uncertain future. Of course, there are many excuses for not saving; ranging from low income to high cost of living. In a Daily Monitor interview with the Bank of Uganda, it was concluded that the many excuses for not saving are a result of a poor savings culture and people’s inability to resist unwarranted expenditure. Savings using either formal financial institutions such as commercial banks or informal financial institutions such as Savings and Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs) act as insurance against disability, disease, retirement, sudden income losses and other contingencies, such as COVID-19 lockdown. As soon as lockdown started, taxi drivers and conductors, roadside sellers, non-food market vendors, and other daily wage workers began demanding food from the government.

Besides, many small and medium sized enterprises have been adversely affected by the lockdown. Many have already laid-off workers and others are worried about their self-sustainability during and post this pandemic. In fact, many Ugandans, both in formal and informal sectors, have already lost their jobs, and are left without a source of income.

In order to respond to the above economic crisis, the government has proposed to boost agricultural production and productivity of seedlings, fertilizers, irrigation, storage facilities and value addition. This is intended to boost agricultural sectors to encourage people to engage in meaningful as well as sustainable economic activities, especially the youth population in cities. This will also assist Ugandans to grow and have access to adequate and quality food products.

In order to help business owners, the government has allowed corporations including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to delay the payment of corporation tax or presumptive taxes due April and June 2020 and for tourism, manufacturing, horticulture and floriculture to defer until September 2020. This is to allow these businesses to sustain their cash-flow to support the continuity of operations.

The government, through the Bank of Uganda, has also devised measures to support those businesses and individuals unable to pay their loans, including allowing extension of repayment periods, postponement of loan repayment for a limited period, relaxing the conditions for non-performing loans, reduction of reserve funds the commercial banks are required to keep with Bank of Uganda and creating a special liquidity facility to rescue businesses that are not able to meet operational costs due to low demand or reduced production due to COVID-19.

Electricity and water corporations are also expected to give a grace period to consumer and no disconnection allowed till lockdown ends and life resumes to normal.

In addition, the city officials in the capital, Kampala, which is the most crowded, has restructured the city by allowing a few taxi operators and prohibiting hawkers and other daily income earners which will encourage people to engage in sustainable economic activities elsewhere.

Socio-cultural impact

Ritual celebrations

Among the most important ritual celebrations in Africa as well as in Uganda is a wedding ceremony. In Ugandan culture, the wedding ceremony occurs in two phases: the introduction ceremony and the actual wedding ceremony. Traditionally, these ceremonies involved simple celebrations which included the bride’s and groom’s family. Nowadays, these have become very big and extravagant. Hiring expensive wedding grounds, halls and gardens and spending lavishly on catering services and entertainment groups, have become a norm. It also involves buying several expensive bridal dresses and groom’s suits that are changed 2 – 3 times during the ceremony. In fact, such wedding ceremonies usually leave many families and married couples poor for the next couple of months. With the COVID-19 outbreak, as a measure to prevent the spread of corona-virus, scientific weddings, in which all these celebrations are made simple with only a few people attending, are now taking place.

Greeting gestures and personal space

Among the prominent greeting gestures in Uganda are handshake and hugging. With COVID-19 outbreak, social distancing is encouraged to prevent human-to-human transmission, especially through breathing in, contact with surfaces and hands with droplets on them. Regarding handshake, the hand-shaker may lightly grip his hand-shaking forearm with the opposite hand. In some instances, to show great respect one may place his/​her left hand over the right forearm when handshaking. It is important to note that besides the spread of corona-virus, there are many other diseases like Chickenpox, Cold sores, foot and mouth disease, Common cold, Diphtheria, Influenza, Measles, Meningitis, Mumps, Pneumococcal pneumonia, Rubella, Streptococcal sore throat, Tuberculosis (TB), Whooping cough (pertussis), etc that are spread through this. Therefore, the implementation of social distancing has led to banning of handshakes and hugging as greeting gestures.

Personal space is often very minimal in Uganda. People often talk coming very close to each other, with less than an arm’s length; touching either the hands, arms, or shoulders of each other is acceptable. Public transportation was usually crowded. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, social distance has been emphasized in public places and buses and taxi are supposed to carry half (50%) of their capacity to allow physical distancing. Private cars can carry only three people including the driver, and all the car occupants must wear masks. The government is also providing masks to all Ugandans that are to be put on while using public transport and in public places.

Hygiene and regular hand washing

In 2006, the Government of Uganda implemented a 10-year Improved Sanitation and Hygiene Financing Strategy for rural and small towns, which calls for a campaign promoting hand-washing with soap. Evidence shows that hand-washing with soap (HWWS) has a major impact on public health in any country and can significantly reduce diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infection (ARI). Indeed, UNICEF through its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program has been promoting hand-washing throughout the world, particularly in Africa as well as Uganda. In Uganda, this program has been targeted at schools, health centres, and households. Despite all these initiatives, many Ugandans have not been washing hands regularly. Beginning from the family, through schools, universities and to workplaces, Ugandans have been consciously or otherwise, resistant to hand washing. Therefore, the outbreak of COVID-19, has forced Ugandans to wash hands and sanitize regularly.

As a measure to prevent the spread of the corona-virus disease, the government necessitated households and institutions to provide water and soap for washing hands at different entry points and within buildings, in open markets, supermarkets, transportation vehicles as a standard operating procedure.

Hand washing facility at Uganda Martyrs University entrance.

Schools and learning

Uganda’s education equates learning to formally designated schools. With reference to the education system of Uganda, a child begins attending school right from pre-primary to university or tertiary institution, commuting daily to school or camping in a boarding section. This practice had left no chance for homeschooling. By the time, the pandemic spread, semesters and terms were halfway, which forced education institutions, especially higher education institutions to use various online tools to continue teaching and engaging students while at home. In fact, it has forced many higher education institutions to implement online teaching and assessment tools, in order to cope with lost time.

In the case of Primary and Secondary schools, communication media, such as televisions and radios, offered to hold study lessons in order to help kids, who are at home, to continue with their education. It should be noted that online teaching has never been used at a large scale as it is now and study sessions by media houses had only been informational and for not more than 40 minutes. The impact here, are the shifting roles of teachers, parents and learners. Parents are responsible for their children’s learning while at home; they are supposed to encourage and motivate; and, provide a conducive home learning environment. Learners too, have to stay motivated to attend online, TV, and radio sessions and do assignment.

As policy support, the government invested in media houses to support them in holding these study lessons. For remote and poor areas where most families have no access to televisions and radios, the government has proposed to buy television sets and a couple of radios for each village and also improve on network infrastructure all over the country to support online studies.

Additional measures

Tax measures

  • Defer payment of Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) tax by those sectors which are most affected until September 2020, so as to help organizations sustain a level of cash-flow to remain in operation and not to lay off workers.
  • The government waived interest on tax arrears, in order to lessen businesses’ tax liability obligations to the government.
  • The government is expected to implement expedite payment of outstanding VAT refunds to allow businesses to have money-inflow to aid their operations.

Employment-related measures

  • In support of the Government of Uganda’s interventions to combat the effect of COVID-19, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) has put in place measures to ease the cash flow burden of affected employers/​businesses in the private sector. On March 31, 2020, it allowed Ugandan businesses facing economic distress to reschedule their NSSF contributions for three (3) months without accumulating penalty.
  • The Parliament of Uganda approved NSSF bill which has allowed members to access 20% of their saving as relief for lost salary. However, there are conditions to be met. To access the 20%, the person must have saved for 15 years if they are below 45 years of age, and those between 45 – 55 years must have saved for at least 10 years.

Economic stimulus measures

In addition to the above-mentioned economic measures, in order to boost the economy, the government is also devising the following:

  • Capitalization of Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) with Ug Shs. 100 billion to enable the government to invest in strategic areas.
  • Boosting the funding to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) in FY 202021 to continue with innovation research and incubation of business start-ups.
  • Securing funding for the development of Kampala Industrial Business Park at Namanve and for power transmission and sub-stations at Mbale, Kapeeka, Bweyogerere, Kasese, Soroti, Luzira, Jinja and Mbarara industrial parks.

Monetary policy

The Bank of Uganda (BoU) issued monetary measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19, and these were to be fulfilled through commercial banks that are under BoU supervision. The BoU is committed to undertake the following:

  • Intervene in the foreign exchange market to smoothen out excess volatility arising from the global financial markets;
  • Put in place a mechanism to minimize the likelihood of sound business going into insolvency due to lack of credit;
  • Provide exceptional liquidity assistance for a period of up to one year to financial institutions supervised by BoU that may require it;
  • Waive limitations on restructuring of credit facilities at financial institutions that may be at risk of going into distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Continue to engage Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and commercial banks to:
    • Reduce the fee on mobile money transactions and other digital payment charges further in order to limit the use of cash and bank branch visits.
    • Increase daily transaction and wallet size limits for mobile transactions.

Health measures

  • Funds were to be made available to provide testing facilities in hospitals and at all border points in order to identify COVID-19 patients and provide immediate attention.
  • The government designated Regional Referral Hospitals, and Naggulu and Mulago Specialized Hospitals and tasked them to manage the COVID-19 cases.
  • The number of health workers in the above hospitals was to be increased in order to effectively cater to COVID-19 cases. The Ministry of Health hired new health workers to meet the required number.


It should be noted that the Government of Uganda has not done much on the side of socio-economic support. There are limited economic policies intended to help individuals, businesses, and private institutions to be able to stand on their feet again, post the COVID period. This means once the lockdown is over, individuals, businesses, private institutions will have to find their way out if they are to operate again. And this is when the deferred taxes, rescheduled loans and electricity and water bills used during lockdown will clock in. In fact, most businesses and institutions will remain paralyzed and others are most likely to go out of business.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/​s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Azim Premji University or Foundation.


Antony Tebitendwa is a Lecturer in the faculty of Business Administration and Management at Uganda Martyrs University (UMU), Uganda


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Leonard Mutesasira et al, Use and Impact of Savings Services Among the Poor in Uganda: Microsave, 1998
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: https://​www​.ohchr​.org/​D​o​c​u​m​e​n​t​s​/​P​r​o​f​e​s​s​i​o​n​a​l​I​n​t​e​r​e​s​t​/​c​e​s​c​r.pdf
Ministry of Health: https://​www​.health​.go​.ug/
Ministry of Education and Sports: http://​www​.edu​ca​tion​.go​.ug/
State of the Nation Address: http://​state​house​.go​.ug/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/​a​t​t​a​c​h​m​e​n​t​s​/​s​p​e​e​c​h​e​s​/​s​t​a​t​e​-​n​a​t​i​o​n​-​a​d​d​r​e​s​s​-​2​0​2​0​-​c​o​n​v​e​r​t​e​d.pdf
The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995: https://​ulii​.org/​u​g​/​l​e​g​i​s​l​a​t​i​o​n​/​c​o​n​s​o​l​i​d​a​t​e​d​-​act/0
Uganda Food and Nutrition Policy, 2003:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: https://​www​.un​.org/​e​n​/​u​n​i​v​e​r​s​a​l​-​d​e​c​l​a​r​a​t​i​o​n​-​h​u​m​a​n​-​r​i​ghts/
World Health Organization:https://​www​.who​.int/​e​m​e​r​g​e​n​c​i​e​s​/​d​i​s​e​a​s​e​s​/​n​o​v​e​l​-​c​o​r​o​n​a​v​i​r​u​s​-​2​0​1​9​/​e​v​e​n​t​s​-​a​s​-​t​h​e​y​-​h​appen