When lockdown was first announced in Uganda, with the associated ugly curfew, some people had no choice but to carry work home. The daily income earners were left wondering which of the many gods was not on their side in this season. Just like that, working from home became the new norm for both regular and casual workers in Uganda.
In this piece, I argue that whereas COVID-19 obliged ‘Work’ to go ‘Home’, both complied; of course under duress, as they could not afford to annoy ‘Jajja’ and his televised directives. However, peaceful co-existence between the duo remains wanting as Work received a cold reception upon arrival. While Work needed more time to adjust to the demands of the host, Home had budget adjustments to make to accommodate ‘working from home.’.
Thank you, ‘novel’ COVID-19… But who is your mother? Besides all the tragedies associated with your visit to planet earth, you have in less than a year succeeded in shaping the global relationship between Work and Home. You have barely lived here, yet you already sent Work Home, demanded hype in hygiene, grounded public transport, brought new forms of greetings and left humanity more hang to technology like it’s never been before.
But in every situation, trust the human to spot out the opportunities. Companies like ZOOM, Microsoft, Jitsi, Google Duo, WhatsApp, and Skype are making a kill from COVID-19 following the Work from Home directive that has forced most workplaces to go digital.
COVID-19 appears to have visited from a planet yet to be known and seems not ready to return to its mother any time soon. While scientists continue the relentless pursuit of the cure and vaccine of COVID 19, faith institutions are on their knees a divine intervention. Traditional healers on the other hand are bragging about their ‘cure. Uganda’s neighbours in Tanzania and Madagascar can relate to the traditional cure promises. I join the prayers – but from another angle that “May nothing akin to Corona ever visit our internet system or we will revert to the medieval ages”.
The novel virus unprecedentedly quarantined Work and Home together – demanding new forms of co-existence. This ‘trial marriage’ was a result of few weeks of dating.
To some people, Home and Work are two distinct variables. Working from has fueled many domestic violence experiences in Uganda from time before COVID-19. This was so much that some people even prefer leaving Work IDs in the car, if not at the office. Therefore, the call to work from home in this lockdown period has been a difficult digest from the word go.
However, in Uganda, only a handful of people can afford the invitation to work remotely from home. The sight of internet routers, printers, scanners, tablets is uncommon in many homes., From costs to security concerns and immovable office devices that operate using shared platforms e.g the Thin Client Computing system and cable internet.
The novel virus met people unprepared for business continuity at a personal and domestic level. So, whereas telecom companies including MTN offered ‘Work from Home’ internet bundles, users are forced to tether from their phones and that comes with interruptions of the virtual meetings when phone calls come through.
Technological devices aside, the domestic physical infrastructures and environment leave many homes unconducive for work. How many homes have study spaces? Work requires favorable mental and physical space. Just imagine a counselor having to provide telephonic services to a distressed client from a one bedroomed house with 6 active family members?
The lack of a quiet space, privacy, and safety given the constant bustle from household members especially the children would be such a hindrance. In many domestic rental spaces in Kampala, even for the middle-income places, verandas and compounds are a forgotten luxury – so you can see the privacy issues here.
Also, when Work arrived at Home, it was first received by COVID-19 related stress and other unresolved family challenges. How can you concentrate when all that comes through your phone and TV are reports from all over the world about new deaths of people in the thousands? Also, anxiety associated with the uncertainty of the next paycheque due to forced lay-off of workers, inability to pay rent, and cater for utilities – all of which are factors fuelling Gender-based Violence (GBV). The lockdown also physically separated some families whose loved ones were either out of Uganda or at work in another district.
Work met ‘disruptions’ at Home. Home is a hub for a zillion concurrent activities. From whispering to crying, complaining, shouting, or playing children in the background as working mothers juggle between ZOOM calls and domestic house calls from the household demands. Work was simply not ready for Home! Also, the success of work from home is dependant on other factors such as stable electricity and internet connection.
You can imagine what that means in the ‘fortunate’ event that another moving highland visits the turbines of our diligent ‘Owen Falls Dam’ at the boarder of Buikwe and Jinja district. Work from home is also dependant on the reliability of colleagues, who are equally quarantined at Home and perhaps dealing with many more unsaid challenges. Such imbalances affect the real-time transfer of information response rates.
In light of the above and having heard from many friends and colleagues, I contend that Work went Home but at a time when Home wasn’t prepared to receive Work, yet. As such, whereas Work and Home are currently quarantined together, the two are having trouble forging a progressive relationship and peaceful co-existence.
The duo sees each other with resentment, anger, and frustration; Home wondering when the uninvited guest will bid farewell. Also, ‘Work’ wonders why our grandfather continues to play games of ‘lock-unlock-lock…’ making the stubborn visitor, who could easily drive back, to wait for Government masks. No wonder my mother warned me against ‘standing’ in politics… See, you buy a car worth hundreds of millions but can’t drive without a free mask from Government… really?
For talented virtual counselors, I request for extension [not of the lockdown] but professional support to the duo above. Time will tell when Work will tell its untold tale of evasion and injustices suffered – accusations which will not be received with muteness… Fingers crossed that Home and Work embrace truth-seeking, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hopefully reparation in the long run. Don’t ask me who the mediator will be!
For now, I beg you to respect grandfather’s directives or you will enjoy free Beans and Posho in the coolers while waiting for high court sessions for attempted murder. Now that only 30 law firms are in active operation, and with virtual consultations, I wonder who will come to save your back! Don’t say I did not warn you!
I’m a contender to the League of Senior Citizens, I’m a son of Patiko in northern Uganda physically locked-up in a foreign land, satirizing Home and Work with #UnquarantinedMind… I’m Onen David but remember not to forget the ‘Ongwech’ when commenting – I bet you do not want to annoy a ‘Tuku Eater’].
Till next week, Wash Your Hands (If your future is still residing in your hands, then be careful not to wash it away). With COVID-19, I quarantined my future elsewhere…
Onen David Ongwech
 A delicacy in Patiko in northern Uganda. Botanically referred to as Borassus Palm a.k.a Borassus Sambiranensis, Borassus Aethiopum, African fam palm, Deleb palm. Do you believe in seeing (like me)?