By Emilly C. Maractho

Our society continues to change, sometimes without announcing. Nothing brings that reality to life more than a visit to the village. 

If you are not a very regular visitor, you will always find something interesting to wonder about. It brings to life the debate topic that we enjoyed during our early school years, that ‘town life is better than village life’. 

My favourite part was always the glorious picture painted of town life. No matter how hard the teams defending village life tried, those arguing that town life was better had their way. It helped some villagers to dream of another life.

It is funny how growing up helps you to learn without being taught. I now envy village life. Occasionally, there are things to worry about. Still, in general, life is interesting and often free of things like tear gas and curfew. 

Every visit to the village helps me to appreciate life more, and that life is to be lived well and full of joy. The rural-urban divide manifest even in times of a pandemic. 

Covid-19 is a reality. I cannot stress it enough. As people we know begin to test positive, get sick and some even die, we quickly recognise that this is serious. The stigma is also real.

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There is nothing to joke about it. Yet, the stark reality of how people in the villages experience Covid-19 and respond to its news is so challenging for the efforts to combat it. 

For most people in rural communities, a death is to be mourned and the bereaved family to be visited and comforted. It matters little if the death is as a result of Covid-19 or not. There is simply no way of controlling those crowds.

Usually, when at home, I visit families that are close to us. This time, I decided that I would spend all the time with my parents. I did not even attempt to go to the market. But I passed by the market, parked outside, adjacent to an entrance point to attend to a phone call.  

People come in and out of the market. The cheer numbers of people in Nebbi Market, walking around without masks, standing in groups chatting away and laughing was astounding. 

Later in the evening, way after 7pm, the market moved outside. The congestion alone, was something I had not really imagined. I have been to other districts too, and it is difficult to think that in some, people have heard of Covid-19.

I often marvel at how national policies appear to have a different life in almost every place – with no national character. Covid-19 quickly became a disease of town people. 

The Covid-19 Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) also appear to mutate in almost all places. In most places, people have moved on. They have accepted the motto ‘come what may’ and gone back to doing most things they used to do. 

In many towns, some people have told me, even when bars were not officially opened, there were night clubs where Ugandans had their fun. Bars and salons were opened long before they were allowed to. 

The most challenging thing for us now is that we are in the middle of elections. It may seem that all attention on Covid-19 SOPs now largely make sense if they relate to campaign rallies. 

Even there, the number of security personnel alone, come close to the allowable numbers of participants in the rally. The Uganda Police now see the enforcement of the SOPs in relation to the campaigns as their major mandate. Where is the police (and army) in enforcing these same SOPs in other public places? 

If government is serious about enforcing Covid-19 SOPs, then the places to look out for are the everyday crowds of every community.

The one off campaign rallies are no doubt a threat. But they perhaps do not measure up in the everyday crowds that are found in markets and other business points, construction sites and others, all over the country.

People now hold wedding functions of large numbers unimagined, that pale in comparison to the expected number that the Electoral Commission has defined for candidates at election campaign meetings. 

The thing that is difficult to deal with is that people have moved on like lockdown never happened. Hopefully, government prepared during those months, because whispers of people having died of Covid-19 in the community is growing louder. Most people cannot afford to go for private testing for Covid-19.

The near-total focus on elections is not very helpful and could create bigger problems.

Now that the police and other security agencies have taken up the responsibility of enforcing the SOPs, they should do so in all places. They should be at schools, churches, bars and disco halls ensuring the numbers comply along other SOPs. 

They should also be at busy streets and in the slums where hundreds of people live together, ensuring they wear masks. 
Still, it’s worth repeating that Covid-19 is real.

Ms Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media studies at UCU. 
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