On one evening in mid-September, 2020, John Katembo (name changed) was visibly upset as he downed the shutters of Bushera Soft Drinks, his five-year-old enterprise, probably for the last time. He had sold the shop to a local businessperson for cash. John, age 26, lives in the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda with his wife and son. John had to move to Uganda from his homeland in DRC owing to political unrest. Once in the refugee camp, his sole source of income was the regular cash benefit he received from the World Food Programme (WFP).

Understandably, this was far from enough and John had to quickly find a job as a data entry operator. His bachelor’s degree helped in the process. Always enterprising in nature, John was also on the lookout to start a business in the new country once his economic situation stabilized a little—and so Bushera Soft Drinks was born.

Throughout the duration when the Corner Shop Diaries program tracked John’s financial transactions, the shop helped John earn an average weekly amount of UGX 141,560 (USD 38). When COVID-19 struck Uganda in March, 2020, the government shut down almost all services. John’s business was among the few that were permitted to continue operating.

In the first weeks of the pandemic, John earned generous profits and his business boomed due to the high market prices of most products he sold—and the prices continued to increase with time. Yet at the end of September, 2020, he had to close down his business for good. What happened in between? What pushed John to close down the business that he built with his blood and sweat in a completely new country? Before we explain this paradox, let us first try to understand his financial life through data from the diaries.

A complex financial life susceptible to a crisis like COVID-19


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