By Patrick Ssekatawa
When Coronavirus hit the world to pandemic levels, every nation, small and great went into panic mode. The World Health Organisation offered guidelines and suggestions to nations to try and combat the virus. Given that everyone was treading new and outlandish waters, every suggestion by WHO was embraced by nations, including Uganda.
On March 18th therefore, President Museveni instituted a COVID-19 induced lockdown in which schools, churches, mosques, lodges, night clubs, sports activities, etc were declared suspended. Other restrictions would follow in the name of fighting the newly declared COVID-19 pandemic. All the declarations were hard and constrictive but understandable and were therefore embraced by Ugandans as everyone focused on fighting the spread of Coronavirus.
As time went on however, the effects of the lockdown began to mercilessly bite. Considering that many citizens survive by hand-to-mouth, it became glaringly clear that survival by such people had become extremely difficult as they were no longer able to fend for themselves. Cries for food relief became impossible to ignore. Government had initially seemed to pay a deaf ear on those wailing voices, giving the opposition politicians the opportunity to steal the limelight by running to the rescue of the starving masses, giving them a few kilos of maize flour and beans.
All this however was brought to an immediate halt when the president declared such acts of generosity by politicians illegal, unless they had given their food to the COVID-19 National Taskforce, ordering courts to charge the culprits with attempted murder. Government accordingly undertook to distribute food to vulnerable groups of people in Kampala and Wakiso.
Unfortunately, the food government gave out wasn’t enough to even feed the targeted population of Kampala as some parts of Kampala weren’t reached. For instance, the areas of Munaku, Lubya and neighbouring villages in Lubaga Division weren’t served at all and many of the vulnerable people were caught on camera feeding on banana peels in total desperation.
Such was the slow pace at which the distribution of food was done so much so that the people of Bwayise where the food distribution was launched by Dr Ruhakana Rugunda were in high gear in their demand for a fresh round of food distribution with the exercise only halfway done!
In the end it became clear that government was incapable of feeding its people. Due to increasing tough economic conditions, cries of Ugandans to be freed to return to work to get the wherewithal to fend for themselves became commonplace. As a result, government budged. Different sectors began to be let loose to return to work. Garages, spare parts shops, stand-alone shops, private and public transport, most arcades and all shopping malls were allowed to reoperate with precautions.
However, up to this time, there are many sectors that are still being held under the lockdown. These include schools, places of worship, bars, night clubs, lodges, sports activities, entertainment and political gatherings. The stakeholders in the afforementioned sectors have voiced their dissatisfaction over their continued lockdown, pleading with the president to let them return to work, promising to follow the health ministry’s guidelines to the dot. Despite such cries though, government seems to mind less. This will definitely have devastating effects for President Museveni and his ruling NRM party going into the 2021 general elections.
It is true that despite the masses embracing the measures government instituted to combat the spread of Coronavirus in the early parts of the lockdown, five months on, there’s a general belief among the population that the COVID-19 that government says is protecting Ugandans from is not as dangerous as first portrayed in March with statistics proving that 78% of Ugandans fear COVID-19 no more! In the area where I stay, there are even some conspiracy theorists who believe Coronavirus is hoax!
Come to think about it:
If between your home and the shop where you buy your merchandise there’s a man who cuts off people’s heads from 8:00pm till late, and you move to issue orders stopping your children from going to that shop from 8:00pm. If your children plead with you relentlessly to allow them go to the shop past 8:00pm and you eventually allow them, it points to a few things:
It’s possible that the claim of there being a man who cuts off people’s heads was actually not true, or that that man was not as dangerous as first feared.
When government locked down the country, the president informed the the masses that allowing free movement was highly risky and would result in the spread of the virus. When government provided a partial reopening of the economy at a time when the spread was said to have moved up a gear, it logically meant that the virus was not as dangerous as first portrayed.
This explains the clear cut non-compliance with the health guidelines as now masses believe they have enough immunity to stand in their stead once attacked by Coronavirus. If the people still saw COVID as very dangerous, they would surely not be pleading with the president to let them to work, they would be demanding for other things that would enable them survive through these hard times. But since Ugandans no longer think COVID poses a danger to their lives, the general feeling among the population is that by government staying the lockdown, the president and his cabinet are torturing their people rather than protecting them.
And this is terrible for the political survival of Mr Museveni. He has always thrived on mass support, but this seems to be dwindling at an alarming rate. I know a number of people, including some at my place of work who have been immense supporters of president Museveni but who are now cursing him for continuing to subject them to immeasurable suffering by keeping their places of work locked. They have since turned their allegiance to the likes of Hon Kyagulanyi in the upcoming elections. Just like they say, ‘A hungry man is an angry man’, these people, are hungry and therefore angry with their president for the COVID-19-fighting measures that have made them ridicules in society.
Taking private teachers for example, the president said they amount to over 350,000, when you factor in the support staff, they would rise to over 600,000. Bring in canteen attendants, suppliers of produce to schools and many others who survive on school activities and who are now practically jobless, then factor in their starving families and you have over 2,000,000 people, hungry, angry and frustrated because of the directives issued by one man!
Another disturbing aspect on the issue of private school teachers is the issue of government’s refusal to allow teachers access a percentage of their NSSF savings, in spite the president himself recognising how those people are suffering. Teachers are aware of how possible and indeed easy it is for government to borrow money to address a matter that they deem pertinent. Failure to bail teachers out is seen as neglect of duty by government. Yes, the president promised to offer 2bn to the teachers’ SACCO, but that SACCO is limited to a select group and the majority of the teachers don’t even know it exists. Besides, what people who are still locked down want is not long term. No! They are currently being thrown out of their rented homes for failure to pay rent. They’re are going without food! Asking them to form groups when they don’t have what to eat is complete miopia! It would be foolishness of diabolical proportions for anyone to think that such people would still vote for Mr Museveni in next year’s elections.
I recently heard the Minister for Kampala, Betty Amongi saying that cabinet had resolved to reinstitute a lockdown on Kampala because the Kampalans have refused to follow the health ministry’s guidelines on COVID. I completely failed to comprehend this. There’s no evidence of cluster infections in Kampala. Actually infections countrywide have gone down drastically with less than 150 active cases and recoveries of over 1,000 after almost two months of people being allowed back into the capital! Yes, some deaths have been reported, 5 at the time of writing. But about 3 of them were reported to have died from COVID from postmortem results, which makes those deaths a lot more contentious. If one had traces of COVID but pneumonia took their life, does the existence of the Coronavirus in their body system mean they died from COVID? I don’t think so! One would even think that given the magnitude of danger COVID-19 has posed elsewhere, a death case would be treated with utmost care and buried with serious ultimate caution. But reports of the case in Namisindwa being unearthed by dogs; and the one in Mengo still hanging on earth before being laid to rest at the time of writing this, are ludicrous to say the least!
This is why the families of the deceased have cast doubt on the COVID-19 death claims, and their reservations are justified! Truth be told, there’s no justification for the reinstatement of a another lockdown in Kampala. At this point, what Mr Museveni would do is to soothe the wounds of the hurt masses, not to lock them down again. Unless they say that the lockdown is a form of punishment to Ugandans, rather than a preventive measure. Doing that will only serve to dampen President Museveni’s scores and those of his NRM candidates, not only in Kampala but in the rest of Uganda as Kampala has a bearing on the goings-on in other parts of the country!
As already stated by doctors at Mulago Hospital, COVID-19 in Uganda is a mild flu infection which doesn’t pose that much of a threat to Ugandans because we have been suffering from flu and fever which got our bodies to build natural immunity. If president Museveni wants bring back the hearts of the disappointed Ugandans, he must lift the lockdown immediately. If places of worship, schools, entertainment and other sectors remain closed, he will face the wrath of the hungry and angry Ugandans and that will spell doom to his political aspirations come 2021!
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