The fight against Covid19 has exposed government’s political leaders, technocrats and religious leaders, winning some public approval and others disdain. One month since Uganda confirmed her first case, observers largely agree that the management of the pandemic will have an impact on the public image of some politicians, civil servants and other leaders in government, faith and other areas of life.
Already, there seems to be some consensus that Covid19 is not only a health issue but also a political matter of national importance. Here are some of the people whose stars Covid19 has helped shine, and those who could emerge as losers.
On top of the list is President Yoweri Museveni. In power for 34 years so far and seeking re-election in next year’s presidential election, Museveni has used the Covid19 lockdown and other directives to reasonably lock out the opposition, while showing Ugandans, his supporters and critics alike, that he is in charge of the situation, especially through his televised addresses. Museveni and his allies in government currently enjoy hours of TV and radio airtime which they use to enumerate government interventions and their effectiveness.
Museveni has also barred politicians from distributing relief food items. He has insisted that all items be sent to National Covid19 Taskforce, and be distributed by the team that comprises of his ministers, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) and other officials. With his government distributing food to the vulnerable poor in Kampala and Wakiso, the president is being projected as generous and caring for the ordinary Ugandan (omuntu wa wansi).
Also, a comparison of the number of local cases with the rising number of patients and deaths in neighbouring countries is being touted as an outcome of Museveni’s resolute and ‘wise’ action to issue tough measures to protect Ugandans against Covid19.
So far, nobody has received glowing praise for the handling of Covid19 like Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng. Her name has received positive commentary in the mainstream media and on social media. Last month, when critics attempted to blast her over her angry remarks during a night inspection at the Entebbe Central Inn quarantine centre, they were silenced online and dismissed as sadists seeking attention at a time when the country is dealing with an emergency.
If she continues with her efforts, Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Minister Amelia Kyambadde is likely to emerge from the Covid19 crisis as the most loved minister among Ugandan traders and bodabodas. From defending vulnerable low profile workers like cleaners to rooting for traders and commercial motorcyclists, Kyambadde has proven to be a champion of low income earners. During Museveni’s address on Sunday, she asked the president to give amnesty to owners of bodabodas that had been impounded for flouting the curfew directive.
The head of State House’s Anti-Corruption Unit has used Covid19 to consolidate her role as a tough fighter of corruption. The arrest of Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) top officials for reportedly inflating prices for relief items is one of the high profile cases Lt Col Edith Nakalema has handled in the unit’s short time of operation so far. The indicted officials include Permanent Secretary Christine Guwatudde Kintu, and Martin Owor, the commissioner in charge of Disaster Preparedness and Management.
MPs Karuhanga & Odur
For challenging Parliament in court and securing an order blocking the release of Shs10bn to the legislature for Covid19 interventions, Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga and his Erute North counterpart Jonathan Odur could emerge as heroes among those opposed to the controversial allocation – especially since most MPs including those on the opposition side, like Kira Municipality’s Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, have sworn not to return the money once they receive it.
For months now, Pastor Aloysius Bujjingo of Makerere-Kikoni’s House of Prayer Ministries (HPM) has been in the hot seat since he separated with his wife Teddy whom he replaced with Salt TV staffer Susan Makula Nantaba. And with city pastors being mocked for asking the flock to keep sending tithe and offerings via mobile money even during the Covid19 crisis, Bujjingo outsmarted other ‘men of God’ and won the hearts of many when he donated Shs100m to the National Taskforce.
The first public figure to ask Museveni to offer relief items to poor Ugandans during Coronavirus prayers at State House on March 21, Pastor Robert Kayanja of Rubaga’s Miracle Centre Cathedral has not only donated relief items to communities but also slaughtered bulls and distributed meat to the poor during the Easter season.
Kadaga and MPs
Besides the OPM scandal, Ugandans will remember the Shs10bn cash bonanza even after Covid19 has been defeated. Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and MPs across the political divide have continued to endure criticism for the controversial Covid19 allocation that critics claim was an act of greed.
OPM PS Guwatudde
Since her arrest by Nakalema’s Anti-Corruption Unit, Guwatudde has remained the poster child of yet another scandal in the OPM. It will take a lot of time, defence explanation and image cleaning for her, Commissioner Odur, Accounting officer Joel Wanjala and Assistant Commissioner in charge of procurement Fred Lutimba to return to return to their jobs or get employed elsewhere in post-Covid19 Uganda.
Currently remanded at Luzira over treason and unlawful possession of firearms charges, former Security Minister Lt Gen (Rtd) Henry Tumukunde has stayed in prison since March 18 when he was remanded. Media focus on Coronavirus took away all the attention the presidential hopeful was enjoying before Uganda confirmed her first case on March 21 – three days after Tumukunde went to jail.
Presidential hopeful Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine of the People Power pressure group has not only had his request to government to allow the repatriation of Africans stuck in China rejected, but has also been criticised for being a populist after he announced he would not partake of the Shs20m Covid19 money each MP is expected to get from the controversial Shs10bn package.
Like Bobi Wine and all Museveni’s opponents, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye has been the target of the president’s ban on political donations. For example, Besigye’s emergency services, that included ambulances provided by members of his People’s Government, were banned. But Besigye is reportedly offering relief food and ambulances services to the vulnerable, albeit covertly.
Also, the Health Ministry is yet to respond to Besigye’s request that retired health professionals like him be invited to boost the medical personnel numbers during the Covid19 crisis. Besigye was Museveni’s personal physician during the NRA bush war. Besides some media interviews where he offered his advice as a trained doctor, Besigye has been using social media to interact with his supporters on Covid19 as his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) continues to bash Museveni for using Coronavirus to suffocate political opposition in a bid to bolster his political ratings.
The controversial self-styled pastor and leader of Kawaala-based Revival Church, Pastor Augustine Yiga has been described by some as a ‘covidiot’ (a term for someone who makes ignorant comments on Covid19). The pastor has been in Mityana’s Kitalya Prison since March 30 following his arrest for claiming there was no Coronavirus in Uganda and Africa at large.
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