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COVID-19 lock down in Kampala, difficulties and implications past the pandemic

By Judith Mbabazi, Shuaib Lwasa, Teddy Kisembo (KNOW Kampala City Partners)

Above: View of Kampala density from Makerere University Campus, Image by: David Heymann, 2019


Social inequality manifests as unequal opportunities and challenges and is more marked in urban areas due to the sizes of agglomeration. In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, social inequality in cities like Kampala has been amplified. Observing mandatory rules of staying home, social distancing, and restricted movement in public areas has impacted negatively on the public’s access to basic needs like food, medical care, reliable shelter as compared to the affluent minority who have the financial sway to afford medical care and food at their convenience, to pay their rent costs from the vast savings in their possession. With no daily income, women- single mothers and widows, unemployed youths, large households, informal business owners, the landless and tenants, people with disabilities in informal settlements, low-paid informal and formal workers, the taxi operator, that mother who works in downtown saloons, the car mechanic and all daily wage earners cannot afford to maintain any semblance of life as it’s known to them. They are surviving COVID-19 while being victimized by the effects of the measures put in place to combat the pandemic, making this a Loss-Loss battle for the poor in Kampala.

Away from the pandemic, inequality is not a new phenomenon. Kampala city is characterized by inequality- both income and spatial-social. For example, it is very common in Kampala, to find areas with residents having access to services while the close neighborhood is deficient in terms of housing, basic infrastructure and services, access to electricity, water, sewerage and drainage services, health services and waste management. This is the bedrock of inequality in the city and it’s these conditions that are amplifying and are being amplified by COVID-19.

Difficulties and Implications

With the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to a total lock down of 5 weeks, more and more individuals and households are losing their wellbeing. Jobs are being lost, savings used up, debt accumulating, assets sold off, transportation cut off, and the number of stress related health issues increasing. The capacity of the urban poor to absorb this shock is limited and their survival is withering. The urban poor already have no safety nets, save for social cohesion, which with social distancing, is also threatened. The measures put in place to combat the pandemic are barely applicable to the urban poor in informal settlements - washing hands for at least 20 seconds is impossible for an average family in the informal settlements of Kasuubi-Kawaala, where a 20 liter jerrican of water costs Ugx200. Social distancing remains a fable in densely populated informal settlements across the city and the country. Most people in Kampala, even if they had been given a month’s notice before the lockdown, would still not change much of their present predicament. The time period of transition from the effects the COVID-19 pandemic is in itself another shock whose impact will have exacerbating impact on urban poverty and inequality. As a result, there will be more widely spread spatially differentiated poverty and chronic poverty incidences.


What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is to expose the already existing inequality between and within countries and cities especially between individuals and neighborhoods within the city. It has also revealed the degree of susceptibility to chronic poverty and temporal and spatial cycles of inequality and the need to build resilient cities. What starts like income inequality, overtime, translates into socio-economic and political inequality.

Despite the government’s efforts, Policy and planning have a lot to do with inequality in Kampala. Therefore, understanding fundamental underpinnings of urban inequality is very paramount especially in times like these and generating different trajectories to address inequality is and should be of utmost urgency to all relevant authorities.





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