I am currently working on a personal project entitled, ‘Alone’ where I focus on a plethora of barely acknowledged service providers playing vital roles in the fight against COVID-19. Among these are truck drivers. In this segment, I intend to project to the world a clear and candid picture of what these truck drivers go through, placing their lives on the line to deliver essential goods and supplies to Ugandans amid a global pandemic.
In March this year, a national wide lockdown was imposed by the Uganda President to combat the spread of Corona virus. There was a surge of online users on social media platforms who expressed their anger in the rising number of COVID-19 cases attributed to truckers. The online mobs gripped by panic castigated the government for not barring these drivers from coming into the country. These people seemed to ignore the fact that Uganda is a landlocked country relying heavily mostly on other countries to import and export its goods.
On May 12, 2020, East African leaders met to discuss how to keep their borders open to allow continued trade within the region. An agreement was reached requiring the mandatory testing of all truck drivers at all border entry points at least 24 hours before crossing into another country. Drivers were to be tested again after 14 days. This resulted in an increased delay. Long lines of trucks and truckers waiting to be tested soon grew. Drivers had to wait for up to two weeks to get tested. At Uganda border entry points, stalled trucks and waiting drivers stretch back over 80kms. Diverse demands by different countries, suspicion and inadequate coordination continues to raise the backing and increase delay at coronavirus immigration clearance points.
President Yoweri Museveni slapped strict restrictions on truckers and these included: reducing the number of truckers per lorry to only one, not allowing truckers to leave their trucks until their final destination and this meant that the truckers had to cook and shower beside their trucks, sex workers too were banned from interacting with truckers.
Ugandans on social media have since branded truckers offensive names such as ‘’corona’’. There is growing anxiety and loneliness suffered by truckers. It doesn’t help that they are turned away by places of lodging. Truckers too are exposed to the vagaries of nature and to petty thefts especially siphoning fuel. Some truckers sleep rough and go days without food.