As business owners prepare to re-open their businesses on June 4 after nearly three months of lockdown, a cloud of uncertainty is hanging around Kampala, especially in the down town part of the city with many feeling they will be prevented from re-opening.
This stems from what some people have blamed as set of unclear directives from President Yoweri Museveni latest address to the Nation on the COVID-19 pandemic that fails to distinguish between a shopping mall and an arcade.
Although the President’s address carried a sense of optimism that the country would gradually return to normal by allowing businesses to re-open, serious confusion and hence fear, have emerged that law enforcement agencies will use the ambiguity to keep most businesses closed.
On Monday June 1, Museveni said: “I emphasise that we are not relaxing the lock down because the virus has gone away, but because the economy has to survive,” He added: “The lock down was not meant to eliminate the virus completely, but rather to delay and be able to manage its spread.”
However some people are now expressing frustration that the president’s directives on COVID-19 are increasingly losing proper direction that can actually help businesses recover.
According to a statement released by Judith Nabakooba, the Minister of Information and National Guidance, the president allowed Shopping malls to re-open but kept Arcades closed.
“Shopping malls will be allowed to re-open for business on June 4, while Arcades will still be closed.” Nabakooba explained that: “Shopping malls have relatively fewer numbers and therefore it will be easy to put in place guidelines on social distancing, sanitizing and enforcing wearing of masks. We expect the operators of shopping malls to be extra vigilant of sanitizing all key surfaces all the time and have strict enforcement measures on all other guidelines.”
But most people say not only can’t they distinguish between a shopping mall and an arcade, they fear that the directive is meant to sideline low-income earners and favour of the rich and wealthy class to resume business.
Others argue that the decision to distinguish malls and arcades is a deliberate plot to keep ordinary people who predominantly work in downtown Kampala away while allowing those on Kampala road and other up-market places to work.
Many business owners and indeed some members of the public have expressed anxiety that the law enforcement agents will keep most of them away because of the ambiguous nature of the directives.
Matters have not been helped by the president’s reluctance to intervene in the row between tenants and landlords over the payment of rent during the period they have not been working.
Although President Museveni had promised to speak to banks to freeze loans, no clear outcome or a meeting has been organised on this subject.
As things stand, most arcades and shopping malls remain under lock and key as landlords have vowed not to re-open until rent arrears dating back to February and March have been cleared.